Don't let the romance of Fiji's win over France last weekend lull you into thinking that the training and development systems in Fijian rugby are on the improve, and that this great triumph for the Pacific was based on what's happening in the islands.

The reality is utterly different.

This was more like a match between a team of Frenchmen who play in France and a team of Fijians who play in France.


Of the 15 starters for Fiji, nine are contracted to French clubs. Another five play in England or Scotland. Only one, the youngster of the team 22-year-old halfback Frank Lomani, plays domestically in the southern hemisphere, for the Fijian Drua, who won the Australian Rugby Championship this year.

A few of the team have been stars elsewhere too. Semi Radradra played league for Australia after being an NRL star with Parramatta. Josua Tuisova and Leone Nakarawa were sevens gold medallists in Rio.

A couple of them have New Zealand connections. Tevita Cavubati, brother of Bill who became a cult figure in the Wellington team years ago, played for the Tasman Makos in the Premiership final back in 2014. First five Ben Volavola had a few seasons with Canterbury and the Crusaders before joining Racing 92 last year.

Then there's the coach. John McKee was raised in the Hutt Valley, played at the Wellington club and left for Australia 40 years ago. He's lived there since, played for Victoria and has been the coach of Fiji since 2014.

His most significant investment has been the two visits he makes to clubs in Europe each year. Not only can he assess the form of the Fijian players, he can develop a relationship with those clubs which he hopes will mean the players will be released for the Rugby World Cup next year.

This has been the great scandal of World Rugby for years. Highly skilled and valuable players from the Pacific have been lured into contracts with rich European club from which they could not escape for the Rugby World Cup unless they risked losing those contracts.

With support from World Rugby and national federations, McKee reckons things are much better than what they were. He told the New Zealand Herald recently that he visited 15 clubs during his last trip to Britain and France.

We won't know until next year's squads are named if the approach is working. But somebody important should be asking hard questions if Radradra is still playing at Bordeaux or Nakarawa at Racing 92 while the World Cup is on.


Fiji are in Pool D with Australia, Wales, Georgia and Uruguay. They'll need to be at full strength to get out of that.

As for France, well they're just paying the price of having far too many New Zealanders, South Africans - and Fijians – in their Top 14 competition. Until the French Rugby Federation takes control of its game away from the owners of the clubs, the prospects for the national team are, to say the least, average.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt prior to the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo / Getty Images
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt prior to the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo / Getty Images

For the sake of rugby, it would be great if Joe Schmidt is not lost to the game completely when he leaves his job with Ireland 11 months from now.

But, while any recent developments have not been reported, it's known that Joe and his wife Kellie have a son Luke, aged about 14, who suffers from epilepsy.

I imagine Joe's announcement this week has more to do with that than anything else.
At the age of 53, the former deputy principal at Tauranga Boys' College has much to offer in a variety of fields. It would be nice to think that rugby could be at least a part of that future.

If not, he can reflect on a decade and a half of outstanding success as a coach going back to being assistant coach at the Steamers when they won the Ranfurly Shield in 2004. After two Heineken Cups with Leinster, three Six Nations titles and two wins over the All Blacks from four matches, there's not a lot more to achieve – except a Rugby World Cup.

At the moment, who'd bet against that gap in Joe Schmidt's CV being closed?