Tongan chairman Epi Taione has launched a withering attack on rugby's international bosses, describing them as "bloody traditionalists" clinging to power.

Taione attacked the way World Rugby (the former IRB) was running the World Cup and even criticised Europe's Six Nations for clashing with the power of football's English Premier League, citing it as an example of old-school rugby mismanagement.

He called on WR to evenly distribute resources instead of denying the likes of Tonga - whose rugby relies heavily on government backing - what was due to them.

Speaking to the Herald from London, Taione - who played in two World Cups - said WR could learn about running tournaments from Fifa. As an example, Taione pointed to tournament darlings Japan playing Scotland just four days after facing, and beating, the might of South Africa.


There were too many lay days in the six-week, 20-team World Cup whereas football's month-long tournament had pool games every day with longer rests for teams.

"They've got us sitting around for three days in London, with nothing to do in a miserable place."

He scoffed at WR's rankings, saying they were "worked out in a gypsy caravan park in Ireland somewhere" and said the sport was steeped in "colonialist bulls**t" which denied countries such as his a share of the financial pie and voting rights.

Taione, who had a 10-year professional career in several countries, said: "Rugby is so out of touch. It's run by colonialists who still think they run the world like it was 100 years ago. They say let's spread the game but it's complete and utter s**t."

Taione is thankful for WR money which largely funds two tours by Tonga each year but said it was far from enough.

"They want us to compete but we get $1.58 million a year while Argentina, New Zealand and the other Sanzar countries have received $18 million before the tournament.

"The money should be evenly distributed. And we still only get one vote for all of the Pacific Island members - it should be Tonga one vote, Samoa one vote, Fiji one vote. I cannot see how our voice will be heard.

"[$1.58 million] to float a union is an insult ... Where is the even playing field? We have no home games to generate revenue and we're lucky to get one tier 1 test.


"Until they're willing to give up power, nothing will change. Until they evenly distribute the resources, they're going nowhere ... Considering the way we're treated, we compete very well."

Mate against mate, as Tonga accusations fly

They were great mates, Finau Maka and Epi Taione. Their rugby battles for Tonga included lining up for the island nation in all four pool matches during the 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign in France. Now they are on opposite sides in a commercial dispute linked to the Tonga Rugby Union.

"Finau was one of my closest friends when playing and he's a good man - this whole thing should be settled over a few beers," says Taione, now chairman of the Tongan union.

While the brilliantly prepared and funded All Blacks are steaming towards what many believe will be a successful defence of the Rugby World Cup, their final Pool C opponents, Tonga, live off scraps, and are beset by them.

This is a story of accusations and counter-accusations over money. Sadly, it is yet another example of the financial instability which undermines Pacific Islands rugby.

Tonga lost their opening match to Georgia, and Maka - who captained the team at the 2011 tournament - says the players are unsettled because of the way they are treated by the union.

He claims to speak for senior players when he says they were not paid properly for a tour late last year and during the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup, and were hampered by team gear turning up in dribs and drabs. Some left the pre-cup camp in England because of these issues. (Attempts by the Herald to get two senior players to verify this did not bring replies.)

Maka says he spoke with players before the tournament, and has kept contact through private Facebook messages during the cup.

"They have had enough of this board," Maka says.

Maka, who runs promotions company SBM8, also says the Tongan union and his old mate Taione have broken a contract he had to find sponsorship for Tongan rugby, one in which Maka and a partner would share a 30 per cent commission. Maka's partner in France was Philippe Spanghero, whose company Team One kicked off the arrangement by giving the Tongan union US$300,000 ($470,000) split in two instalments.

That's the point at which accusations start to fly.

Maka says Taione wrongly claimed a 20 per cent commission on the money even though he did nothing to attract it.

"All he did was approve the deal by way of a signature," says Maka.

Asked by the Herald if he had been unwise to claim a commission, Taione concedes a little. But he says that, in the big picture, he acted more than fairly.

Taione said: "I have brought in 1.5 million [Tongan pa'anga, $1.1 million] and I doubt if I have claimed more than 30,000." He was not specific over what he did claim.

Maka also alleges a conflict of interest, because Taione offered a cut-price sponsorship deal to an IT firm called Triesten Technologies, of which Taione is a director, and cut SBM8 out of the deal.

Taione counters that SBM8 was required to bring in $1 million sponsorship during the first year for the agreement to remain in place. Maka provided the Herald with a contract - it lacked any clause to that effect.

To return to immediate Rugby World Cup matters: Taione is adamant the Tongan players are paid properly, and are better paid than ever thanks largely to backing from the Government.

This broken friendship has one particularly explosive point. Tonga played the Pacific Barbarians at Mt Smart Stadium in June 2014, and the backdrop was a shambles.

Taione says the game was in danger of collapse, because Maka - responsible for the Barbarians - had only $3000 and could not pay hotel bills. With New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew furious that the sport's credibility might be hurt, Taione says he cobbled together $25,000 to rescue the game.

Maka retorts that his sponsors pulled out because Taione failed to get the game sanctioned by the international board in time.

There are many more strands to this story, but one stands out, because it involves Tongan fans and highlights the financial and organisational gap between rugby's rich and poor.

A Tongan team fundraising stall was set up in an Otahuhu car park on a Saturday morning this month. It was not all that well attended, although the Tongan Prime Minister Samiuela 'Akilisi Pohiva was in town and dropped by. Among the guests was Jenny Salesa, the MP for Manukau East, who was raised in Tonga.

Big-hearted supporters from the South Island flew in with $7300. A total of $20,400 was raised.

Some in the Tongan Rugby Union wanted the money channelled to the players through the union. The local organising committee insisted on paying directly into the players' accounts. They got $658 each.