Treatment of the Pacific Islands is an embarrassment to rugby

For all the excitement surrounding Martin Johnson’s first game in charge of England and his new look line-up, it was a game which I believe should never have been played.

Pacific Islanders

Rugby’s treatment of the so-called ‘second tier’ nations remains an ugly blot on the sport’s landscape and unfortunately games like Saturday’s serves purely to legitimise the maltreatment of these teams.

Which teams did you most enjoy watching at the last World Cup? I don’t think I am alone in selecting Fiji and Tonga and it certainly was not just because I love seeing an underdog sticking it to the established order. They ooze talent and ability and play with a joy, ebullience and enthusiasm which drags even the most uninterested, restrained supporter to the edge of his corporate armchair. Fiji gave eventual champions South Africa a far better game than anyone else in the competition.

So why are they only given a chance to play at the top level for their actual countries once every 4 years? Why are they combined and treated as some form of novelty act, given little funding and preparation time and used merely as a warm up by better prepared teams and cynical unions who know they will haul in the crowds and be a nice little earner?

It is beyond patronising and in any other walk of life there would be absolute outcry. At a time when the world generally frowns upon elitism, rugby union runs the most closed shop imaginable. The rich continue to be utterly self-serving, getting richer and richer while the rest are barely treated as citizens at all, let alone even second-class ones.

The major unions talk about growing the world game and attracting new interest and the best they can come up with is New Zealand playing Australia for the 4th (yes 4th) time in a season in Hong Kong. And this after another protracted Tri-Nations series where everyone played each other 3 times.

In a fixture list where New Zealand and Australia can find time to play each other 4 times, can there really be no room in the fixture list for Tonga, Fiji and Samoa to be awarded matches in their own right? Is the elite end of the game really that much of a closed shop? How well do the likes of these 3 and Argentina have to play in order to be given the respect and fixtures they deserve and have earned?

Is it fear that drives the big 8/9 into refusing to give what is due? The Home Nations know that these teams can regularly give them a serious game and that there’s the potential to be embarrassed. The Antipodeans know that if these countries become forces, then the conveyor belt of South Sea talent feeding their own national teams may dry up (and don’t try to pretend it doesn’t happen).

Furthermore, even if, try as they might, the elite cannot find it in themselves to give the individual islands proper fixtures and will only play a conglomerate, they could at least do it on a level playing field. For all the wranglings over player release over the years between the major unions and the clubs, what about the players playing for the lesser nations? Why should they not be released to train for a decent amount of time with their national team? Is it fear once again that if these boys are allowed to actually build up an understanding they could run us off the park?

In football, all clubs are obliged to release players to their countries for competitive internationals for the same amount of time. Rugby does not extend this courtesy to its perceived lesser citizens. One of the saddest rugby stories of recent years was when Trevor Leota was unable to travel to the 2003 World Cup because he couldn’t afford the time away from his employers, London Wasps. One of the world’s most popular players was robbed of the chance to play in the sport’s showpiece.

The Pacific Islanders were pretty poor on Saturday but is it any wonder when every step of the way these proud rugby nations find obstacles littering their path? And how must the players and people of these rugby-mad nations feel when, on examining those obstacles, they find the fingerprints of those who run the global game all over them? For 3 nations who give so much to the global game, they receive almost nothing in return, not even the opportunity to run out at Twickenham, Stadium Australia, the Stade de France or wherever, representing their own country.

Rugby’s elitism needs addressing quickly. Maybe we can find in rugby an ideal place for the application of the ideas of Karl Marx. Maybe he was talking about rugby all along. An end to the oppression of rugby’s lower orders and a redistribution of power and wealth is needed to stop our comrades in the South Pacific from being treated quite so shabbily.

9 thoughts on “Treatment of the Pacific Islands is an embarrassment to rugby

  1. Come on…lets not get carried away here. Though I agree the Islanders rugby is sight to behold (I was at the SA v Fiji game in the world cup chearing on the Islanders) I get a little tired of the same old “Big bad bullies” picking on the “poor ickle nations” arguments that always get rolled out.

    There is no pot of money that gets set aside by the UN for rugby nations to share. Each nation generates it’s own revenue from the demands of it’s supporters through TV money and ticket sales. As much as we all love the idea of the islanders playing rugby – take a look at the viewing figures for last weeks game against the coming week’s match v Australia. Also if my eyes didn’t deceive me there was a huge number of seats unused at Twickers, something I’m sure will not be the case this week. We can’t love the idea that much!

    Lets look at Fiji as an example, they play plenty of test matches every year – the players don’t got wrapped in cotton wool and put away until the next world cup. This year they’ve played teams such as Japan as well as Australia A and NZ Maoris. They also played Australia last year in preparation for the World Cup (and got beat by 50 points) – so they get their opportunities.

    This tour the Pacific Islanders are on is a great idea as I’m sure it will raise the profile of the island nations and lead to bigger and better things. So stop complaining about how we are treating them and get out and watch them. If we filled Twickenham then I’m sure there would be more tours and more money available in future.

  2. Mikey – I think you have missed the point. The ‘big’ nations need to play against the smaller teams to help them to improve. As they develop they will be more competitive in the test matches they do play and that will pull in the crowds. We can’t just have a situation where Australia and NZ just play each other 4 times a year because they’ll get bigger audiences…ultimately, that will switch audiences off.

  3. What about asking the players what they want to do? I wonder if anyone at the IRB has ever thought of doing that…

  4. The Pacific Island nations need investment in order to progress – the idea of an Islands Super 14 franchise has been thrown around for a while now. I think it’s about time the IRB steps up and invests in rugby outside of it’s comfort zone.

  5. As a Welshman, I have experienced first hand the value that the island nations (in my case Fiji – to my woe) bring to world rugby.

    The problem lies with the infrastructure in their home RFU. It doesn’t have the cash to invest in facilities, coaching etc and, as a result, the teams suffer. They can’t tour outside of their area, and as such either spank the likes of Japan, or suffer a hiding from the young All Blacks.

    It’s hard to see how this is going to improve without a big cash injection.

  6. ‘This year they’ve played teams such as Japan as well as Australia A and NZ Maoris. They also played Australia last year in preparation for the World Cup (and got beat by 50 points) ‘

    Mikey I think this sums it up to be honest. They’ve played second teams, also-rans and they only get a big fixture so the other team can build confidence for the World Cup. And even when they do get fixtures, those fixtures are generally away from home. I could be wrong but I think NZ have never played a test in Samoa. Why not? Can you imagine the enthusiasm which would greet them, the number of people it would inspire. That’s the way in which we need to be reaching out. I’m sure they don’t want freebies but just to be involved in the rugby world in their own right. They’ve earned that.

    And mate there were 60,000 people at Twickenham. That would have filled most rugby stadiums in the world. It’s a pretty good return. I don’t think that illustrates that nobody is bothered about watching them.

  7. Shane Williams’ side step coach, firstly, do you reckon you could spend some time with England’s back division? I feel my hard work up front is going to waste.

    Secondly, I agree but what better way of helping out than goodwill gestures such as a mjor nation actually deigning to tour there, or giving a good portion of the gate money for a game at eg Twickers to the visiting Pacific Island team.

  8. “The Antipodeans know that if these countries become forces, then the conveyor belt of South Sea talent feeding their own national teams may dry up (and don’t try to pretend it doesn’t happen).”

    So what evidence do you have of this? The conveyor belt to which you refer actually works the other way with many in the Pacific Island side which played in the autumn internationals having been born or at least having grown up in NZ (or in Rualini’s case Queensland). I get sick and tired of Brits raising this tired old nonsense in which they merely reveal their own ignorance. If you really wanted to do somehting useful get on the back of the RFU to give more money from such fixtures to the PI rugby bodies. Yes tidy up your own back yard before you try to tidy ours!

  9. I think you’ll find the article makes that point as well Tony. You’ve just picked out the criticism of the Southern Hemisphere and ignored the criticisms of the Home Nations and of the top nations as a whole. And the conveyor belt does not work more the other way at all. OK so there may be a few who have lived in New Zealand but chosen to play for their country of heritage but how is that the same as just bussing them over at the age of 15 so that by the time their old enough they have become naturalised.
    Plus they’re on NZ’s doorstep so I repeat the question, how come they cannot find time to award the islands a fixture or 2 as individual nations?

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