MONTPELLIER, 7 September – When Tonga kick off their IRB Rugby World Cup campaign against USA on Wednesday, it will represent the completion of a long journey for Vungakoto Lilo.

The full back was born on the island of Happai, but only started playing club rugby on Tonga's mainland in 1999. However, Lilo's team only played at certain times of the year, so during the off season he would run 10km to the next village to play for a different side. And when that was over, he would run the 10km back home.

"I just wanted to play rugby," said Lilo. "As a boy I remember playing rugby whenever I could and with whatever I had. I would throw anything around – soccer balls, coconuts, even empty cola bottles!"

Turn the clock forward to 2007 and Lilo, who only made his international debut earlier this year in the repechage match against Korea that confirmed Tonga's place at the world cup, is about to represent his country in rugby's biggest showpiece.

"It's an honour to play in a rugby world cup," said Lilo. "It is the biggest event there is."

The tournament comes after a busy summer for Lilo, who got married in July just days before joining up with the Tonga squad. "I miss my wife very much and can't wait to see her," admitted Lilo.

But for now, the 24-year-old is remaining focused on Tonga's world cup dream.

"It's an honour to represent Tonga and I really want to do the best for my country."

RNS ap/md/kb