Niue keen to woo fans on and off the pitch

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am

Hailing from a tiny island 2,400 kilometres northeast of New Zealand, Niue Wanderers are in Hong Kong with a simple and noble goal - to promote their Pacific island nation.

After building on an idea fostered from a visit by the sports minister and team manager, Dalton Tagelagi, to last year's World Expo in Shanghai aimed at bolstering tourism on the unspoilt island, the Wanderers have made their longest trip to run out at the Tens this week.

And after delivering a display of pace and power, the Wanderers beat the Overseas Old Boys 19-5 before securing a place in today's Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 21-14 win over Australian Country Invitational.

'We have always wanted to push out into Asia and see how competitive we are. Most importantly it is about advertising Niue because the majority of Asian people will not know where Niue is,' said Tagelagi, the chairman of Niue Rugby Union which are ranked 68th by the International Rugby Board.

'But after the expo, people in Shanghai and Asia started to know where Niue is. The government has supported the team and it gives us more profile in the Asia region.'

The Wanderers squad is mostly made up of players who have represented Niue at 15s and Sevens events, including the IRB Sevens World Series in Australia and New Zealand, and the trip is also aimed at paying them back for their service, while also blooding several youngsters on the international stage.

'It is the first time the guys have played Tens, although a lot of them have represented Niue in Sevens and 15s,' said Tagelagi's older brother and coach Ric. 'We were cautious in the first game so we are just learning as we go. We did not train; we just jumped on a plane.'

Dalton Tagelagi faces the island nation's 1,500 voters in May who will decide if he remains as a member of parliament, but first the Wanderers must deal with Malaysia's Borneo Eagles, who won the Plate last year.