Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Islands treatment shame

Heavyweights continue to treat Pacific Islands with contempt

Paul Williams and his Samoa side further confirmed Pacific potential with a first win over Scotland last weekend. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Williams and his Samoa side further confirmed Pacific potential with a first win over Scotland last weekend. Photo / Getty Images

Rugby's shameful treatment of the Pacific Islands may never end - a sad fact that becomes ever harder to refute given events of recent weeks.

The appetite for throwing obstacles in the path of the Island sides is insatiable. The collective lack of acknowledgement from rugby's heavyweights that they are culpable in the subjugation of the Island sides is just as staggering.

For more than 20 years - since Western Samoa shocked Wales at the 1991 World Cup - the Island nations have been managed as a threat rather than an opportunity. But the past few weeks have been painfully bad.

In mid-May, this paper revealed that the All Blacks rejected an invitation to play Fiji in June, arguing that with 13 tests already locked in this year, they were just too busy.

Barely a week later, the New Zealand Rugby Union excitedly confirmed that the All Blacks will almost certainly play a test in Tokyo this year.

The test in Tokyo is genuinely not about revenue generation - which makes things worse. If the All Blacks want a game to help develop their younger players and grow their leadership group, a trip to Suva, Nuku'alofa or Apia would fit that brief way better.

Interestingly, the NZRU made little mention of the fact that a day after they trumpeted their coup in securing a development test in Tokyo, Fiji thumped Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup.

Last weekend highlighted the bigger problem - the nub perhaps - of why the Islands are never likely to be fairly treated. Samoa secured a historic win against Scotland in the quadrangular tournament being played in South Africa. Such victories by the Island teams don't do them any favours in the long run. With the IRB effectively set up as a Northern Hemisphere cartel, the Celts remain all-powerful and fear for their cosy position should the Pacific Island nations ever fulfil their potential.

The Pacific Islands are seen as a threat to the existing world order which is why in 2009, then again in 2010, the Celts voted against a proposal to change the eligibility laws to allow players to stand down after representing a Tier One nation and play for a Tier Two nation.

"The reality is there is a group of northern unions very nervous about strengthening the Island nations," said New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew after the first rejection. A year later and the IRB voted on an amended proposal during the November test window, leading Tew to say: "We didn't get as much support as we did last time and I'm not sure if Fiji drawing with Wales last weekend helped the cause."

At the same time the Scots were being stripped of their pride, the Lions held their nerve to beat the Reds. Who were two of the key players for the Lions? Mako Vunipola and Toby Faletau. Manu Tuilagi would have no doubt been too but for a shoulder injury that forced him off early.

Rugby's old order want to help themselves to the best players Pasifika has, while they do all they can to stunt the collective growth of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. It's not inconceivable that during the forthcoming test series between the Lions and Wallabies, as many as 11 players with a Pacific Island background could be on the field.

There was further evidence of this desire to plunder when Noa Nakaitaci scored two tries for France against the Blues. The young wing is a product of the Clermont Academy set up in Fiji two years ago - a programme that, judging by the fate of Nakaitaci, is nothing more than a cynical means to get first dibs on local talent.

The final straw, though, came during the clash between Tonga and Canada in the Pacific Nations Cup in Ontario. Tonga picked up one red and two yellow cards, leading coach Mana Otai to suggest his side were unfairly treated because they are black.

One of the yellow cards was justified but his confusion as to why prop Eddie Aholelei was red-carded after an all-in brawl was understandable. A Canadian threw the first punch in a melee that saw at least 20 players involved - and the outcome was to punish one Tongan?

"It's almost like, these days you know, when a black man is tackling harder than the other, it seems to be the way," said Otai. "It's a perception a lot of times. I think some of the foreigners that are involved in our team now are starting to see that. It's just hard to battle or fight that stereotype, I guess."

- NZ Herald

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