Given the huge success of the recent All Blacks visit to Samoa, it’s about time the Tier 1 nations started showing the Pacific Islands a bit more respect. The game was a huge hit, not just in terms of the quality of rugby on display, but in the way that it managed to unite a whole nation for one incredible day.
For far too long the Pacific Islands have been short changed by the Tier 1 nations in world rugby, despite giving so much to the game. Not only have they provided some of the top rugby talent currently on show in the game, but have also been instrumental in ensuring that the World Cup is packed full of competitive teams.
Given the number of times Samoa have faced off against Tier 1 nations in recent history, there is no way in hell that their recent game against the All Blacks should have been hailed as being so historic. By now, these games should simply be a yearly occurrence with each of the Pacific Islands getting a look in.
Every year, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji visit Europe and face off against the top sides on the continent, yet when these teams head to the Southern hemisphere, they virtually ignore the Pacific Islands. The same goes for the British & Irish Lions who despite having time to stop off in Hong Kong for a game against the Barbarians, seem unable to include one of the Pacific Islands as a warm-up game.
The same issues are present with the Southern hemisphere nations who despite their close proximity to the Islands, seem unwilling to visit on a regular basis. Given Argentina have now joined the Rugby Championship, it seems amiss that none of the Pacific Island nations were even considered for the tournament.
There was huge potential at this stage to develop a format similar to the Six Nations, allowing at least two more teams to join the competition, with at least one coming from the Pacific Islands. Yes the logistics are a little more difficult, but if they can include South Africa and Argentina, then why not Samoa or Fiji?
The same issue has occurred in Southern hemisphere club rugby, where a Pacific Islands team has been overlooked in favour of teams from Japan and Argentina, in addition to a sixth South African side, despite the emigration of much of their top international talent. It is no bloody wonder then that most of the Islands top talent moves abroad, and chooses to represent other nations.
Now obviously these issues primarily boil down to money. A Japanese Super Rugby franchise has been created as it opens up the game to a potentially very lucrative new audience. Equally the All Blacks prioritised a game in the USA over playing Samoa last year because again there is a vaster audience with more disposable income.
Whilst there’s no way nations like Fiji or Samoa will ever be able to generate the kinds of revenue the USA or Japan might be able to, by giving their teams and players more exposure, there is every chance they will be able to contribute to the wider game both on and off the field. Without this support though, it is hard to see how they can develop.
You only have to look at the fee issues the Samoan players had to deal with last year to see just how much of an issue this has become. By ensuring the governing bodies of Fijian, Samoan and Tongan rugby are adequately funded, there is an opportunity for them to better support their top talent, and keep them playing for their country of birth.
If things don’t change drastically, then we could well find teams arriving to a World Cup where the likes of Samoa and Fiji are no longer able to compete, having been overtaken by nations such as Japan and USA. Whilst that may be great news for the pockets of those at the top of the game, it would be a travesty for the everyday rugby fan.