Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: Players seek Pacific pact

Deacon Manu. Photo / APN
Deacon Manu. Photo / APN

A Pacific Islands Rugby Players' Association could be formed following allegations by ex-All Black Simon Mannix that his former club Racing Metro paid Fijian players to rest during last year's World Cup.

The International Rugby Board appears to have had little control or influence over such matters, despite wielding their 25-page Regulation 9 which outlines the supposed mandatory procedure for releasing players during June and November test windows and the World Cup.

The reality is, money talks and players are unlikely to quibble with employers in the interests of maintaining a livelihood for their families.

A loophole in Regulation 9 means clubs don't have to pay players when they're released for international duty. They can also ensure their 'loyalty' by offering financial sweeteners for availability.

Pacific Island unions want players to get European contracts for their rugby development and financial security so they are signed regardless.

The flipside can be a lack of availability or, at worst, uncapped players switch allegiance to another country because more money is on offer at wealthier unions.

Fijian captain and former Chiefs prop Deacon Manu is part of a core of Pacific Island players looking to instigate change with help from the likes of the New Zealand and Wales Rugby Players Associations.

Manu, with Samoa's Mahonri Schwalger and Tonga's Hale T-Pole, is leading an action group so smaller rugby nations get a bigger say on the international stage and players feel more inclined to speak up about their welfare.

As yet it's no Arab Spring - it might better be coined "Pacific Autumn" in the Northern Hemisphere - but Manu says they're making progress.

"Between the three of us we're lucky to have contacts in Wales and New Zealand who are willing to help us, despite our limited resources, because we don't usually get a voice. This movement is vital for our sustainability. We want to look back in 5-10 years knowing we made a difference.

Schwalger is no stranger to controversy. As captain he criticised the Samoan management post-World Cup for their conduct during the tournament. They might also find allies in Samoan midfield back Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and the new chairman of the Tongan union - and recently retired player - Epi Taione.

Fuimaono-Sapolu earned the rugby world's attention with a series of acerbic tweets during the World Cup, notably when he compared Samoa's treatment to slavery, the Holocaust and apartheid when they were scheduled to play twice in four days while Wales had a week off.

Taione, 33, might be sympathetic to the cause and ideals of a players' union. As a player he briefly led an existence as Paddy Power - the name of an Irish betting firm - after changing his name by deed poll at the 2007 World Cup to get team sponsorship. To make ends meet he also had a cameo in Invictus, the film about South Africa's 1995 World Cup win.

Manu now plays club rugby in Wales for the Llanelli Scarlets and has no problem getting clearance for internationals in his contract. Last night, he led Fiji in front of an 82,000 sellout crowd at Twickenham.

"Guys have got to make a living and provide for their families so unless they are playing for a tier one nation it becomes a tough decision. Any country wants people who are willing to play regardless of such interventions but when some players have to pay for their own flights to get here it becomes tricky.

"I'm lucky, Llanelli have been more than supportive. They understand the importance and pride of playing for your country but it's not always easy. Being hosted by tier one countries is fantastic, that's the way forward, but further investigations need to be made by the IRB into what some of these clubs are doing. A strong message needs to be sent so international rugby has the best players available for the welfare of the game. I don't want to threaten other clubs, I understand their predicament, but we need a better deal.

"Rugby tends to be controlled by about half a dozen countries, but that will become difficult to sustain if the game goes global, especially with sevens being introduced to the Olympics. They could be faced with some sort of revolution if the status quo remains."

- Herald on Sunday

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