New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew revealed details of the additional Test match fixture on the All Blacks' 2019 calendar. The match will be played at FMG Stadium, Waikato, on Saturday 7 September. It will be a hit-out for the Rugby World Cup 2019 squad, and it will be the first All Blacks Test match in Hamilton since 2016.
"We invited Tonga to play this fixture which we saw as an important part of the All Blacks' preparation, but also a great way for Tonga to prepare for Rugby World Cup 2019. We envisage this will be an opportunity for fans to provide a colourful send-off for both teams," Tew said.
The All Blacks Test match against Tonga comes just weeks after Tonga was confirmed they will be fielding a team at the NZ Sevens tournament in Hamilton in January.
Tonga may well consider Hamilton to be a second home, given the city has already recently hosted Mate Ma'a Tonga supporters during Rugby League World Cup. Tonga's presence at the World Series tournament in Hamilton, and the All Blacks Test match provides Tongan fans with a unique opportunity to support their country in Hamilton twice in 2019.
"As New Zealanders we really admire the way Tongan supporters get behind their team with such passion and commitment. We're looking forward to their enthusiasm and energy joining with All Blacks fans creating an amazing atmosphere in January and September," Tew said.
The 2:35pm kickoff means a one-time return of afternoon Test rugby, with the earlier time allowing both teams to manage recovery before travel to Japan. Tonga departs for Japan the following day (Sunday) after the Test, and the All Blacks the day after that (Monday).
The All Blacks will face South Africa in its opening pool match only two weeks later while Tonga are preparing to face England in their opening match.
The only other opportunity to see the All Blacks play on New Zealand soil in 2019 will be in Wellington against South Africa, in what will be a teaser for the two teams' opening match in RWC 2019, and the Bledisloe Cup and Laurie O'Reilly Trophy double header with the Black Ferns at Auckland's Eden Park.
Hamilton Mayor Andrew King says the city will be brimming with anticipation and excitement ahead of its first full international rugby Test since 2016.
"This is tremendous for Hamilton and its community - we've loved hosting the All Blacks in the past, and we know Tongan fans bring an incredible energy and passion to supporting their team," Mayor King said.
"We've got one of the world's best rugby venues in FMG Stadium Waikato, and I'm feeling really confident it will be packed to capacity for what will be the All Blacks' farewell home Test ahead of their quest for a Rugby World Cup threepeat.
"We're a 'can-do' city when it comes to major events with a proven track record of delivering great experiences for fans, athletes, support staff and officials - this is another chance to showcase our city and our venue, and we can't wait."
Tonga Rugby Chief Executive Fe'ao Vunipola said playing the All Blacks was an ideal way for Ikale Tahi to prepare for Japan.
"We know from our wonderful experiences in Auckland and Hamilton, that our team is very much loved and supported by Tongan and many non-Tongan fans.
"Although this is an All Blacks team playing at home, we would like to think that our supporters will come out in force, and effectively turn it into a home game for Tonga and give us a fantastic send off for RWC 2019 where we want to do our nation proud."
Chiefs Super Rugby Club Chief Executive Mike Collins welcomed the announcement as great news for the region.
"For those of us not able to be in Japan for the World Cup, it will be a unique experience to witness the World Cup squad get a run at FMG Stadium before they head to Japan," he said.