Led by manager Aaron Mauger, they spent three weeks longer than any other side in the Queenstown bubble at the start of the season and debuted 46 Super Rugby players in their first competitive season.

The Super Round, where the 12 teams converged on Melbourne to mark the start of the Trans-Tasman leg of the competition, became their light at the end of the tunnel, Sakalia said.

“Is it in the interest of the competition that a team be… relegated to non-player status”

Pelenato Sakalia, boss of Moana Pasaifka

Ranked last with a win from eight games, Moana nevertheless believed that with a full week of preparation they had an unrivaled chance of knocking out the weaker teams from the Australian side of the draw.

“We used the first part of the competition to strengthen our team, develop our game and improve our conditioning, so we could go into this phase to really see how we were placed,” Sakalia said.

“We were really excited to be able to travel and play against Australian teams but, even more so, to walk onto the pitch knowing they were in the same position as everyone else.”

Force and SANZAAR sources were confident the game would be played but, with just five rounds remaining and both teams playing their seasons in each other’s country, where and when live are questions.

The Force sit in eighth place but face a tough race to retain that spot with games against all five New Zealand teams. If Moana can beat one or two of their Australia-based opponents, including Fijian Drua, the postponed game will have a major bearing on the final line-up of the top eight.

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Force boss Tony Lewis has defended the club’s response to a widespread outbreak, where 25 players, coaches and staff have contracted the virus.

“We followed the protocols established by SANZAAR and the medical advisory group, and we just didn’t have a team,” Lewis said. “We tried everything we could – we had 10 Shute Shield players at one point – but then we lost 25 players.

“The last thing we wanted to do was play a catch-up game in New Zealand. If I had my time again, I probably would have run straight to the GM, but we followed the protocols in place.

Watch all matches from Super Rugby Pacific on the home of rugby, Stan Sport. All streaming ad-free, live and on-demand only on Stan Sports.

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