July's All Blacks tests against Tonga and Fiji will be a festival of Pasifika rugby on New Zealand soil, icon Eroni Clarke says.
Confirmed today, the All Blacks will face Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium as well as Fiji in Dunedin and Hamilton as their July test matches, following Italy's withdrawal from their tour of New Zealand.
What's more, Manu Samoa will also play on New Zealand soil, firstly against the Māori All Blacks ahead of the test of the year, and against Tonga as a Rugby World Cup qualifier before the Hamilton test.
Mt Smart is no stranger to hosting Pasifika sporting events - albeit in rugby league, with Mate Ma'a Tonga having turned the stadium red in their famous 2017 World Cup campaign.
Clarke, who played 24 tests for the All Blacks aside from being a longtime voice for Pacific rugby as New Zealand Rugby's Pasifika engagement manager, is wanting to see more of the same when the July series begins.
"This is the exciting thing about this 'festival' kind of season is having our communities involved," Clarke says.
"It really does want in that desire for our Pacific communities, seeing a sea of red, a sea of blue, a sea of white for Fiji.
"It just really provides for a wonderful festival, so that's what we're looking for. And of course for the opportunity to play against the All Blacks and the Māori All Blacks. This is wonderful."
It won't just be an opportunity for the Pacific sides either, with Clarke pointing out that the tests will also be a chance for the All Blacks' Pasifika contingent to acknowledge their heritage.
Clarke is also hopeful that the July window will strengthen the relationship between New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours, paving the way for more series of the like in years to come.
"It really does give an opportunity to acknowledge our Pacific boys that represent the All Blacks," Clarke adds.
"For many of them who are from south Auckland, places where a lot of [the] population of our Pacific are - it really does acknowledge them.
"If I just speak of my own experience, it really warms the heart of the players. Many of them, like Ardie [Savea] and others, have talked about and asked about how we can acknowledge our Pacific communities, and have a lot more games against our Pacific nations as well.
"It is a really wonderful opportunity really that we can see continuing building these relationships between New Zealand Rugby, and our home nations of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga."
Aside from international honours, the series can also be seen as a kind of shop window for Moana Pasifika, as they prepare for their maiden season in Super Rugby next year.
As Moana Pasifika's director of rugby, Clarke will be on hand to oversee Tonga and Samoa in particular, as they target spots as Super Rugby's newest side's foundation players.
"I suppose it is an opportunity for, when you're thinking about the recruitment process Moana Pasifika has to go through, and no doubt gives the opportunity for these players perhaps to push for opportunities to play Super Rugby next year."