Little did I know how much rugby is wobbling on its axis when I wrote my opinion piece last Thursday asking the international governing body of rugby to do the right thing with the Pacific Island nations as the Rugby World Cup looms in Japan.

It seems I was only broaching the subject to a superficial degree while World Rugby, the former International Rugby Board, seems more preoccupied with what it needs to do with an international 12-nation competition that will ensure the high rollers will keep coming to its table to call its bluff.

The stakes are much higher now with the ill-conceived and poorly branded "World League". (Isn't it a total lack of imagination to use a term that differentiates your sport from the rival code of rugby league?)

Here's the irony.


In 1887, committee members of the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Scottish Football Union (rugby union) and Welsh Rugby Union wrote the first four principles of the then International Rugby Football Board.

England refused to take part in the founding of the IRFB, stating it should have greater representation, as they had more clubs. The England Union also shunned the IRFB as the recognised lawmaker of the game.

In retaliation, the IRFB took the stance of member countries not playing England, which led to the latter left out on a limb in 1888 and 1889.

In 1890, England got its way, joined the IRFB but demanded six seats while the other unions had to settle for two each. That year, the IRFB wrote the first international laws of the rugby union.

In 1893, the IRFB was faced with the dilemma of amateurism and professionalism in rugby, branded the "Great Schism".

Following the introduction of working class men to the game in Northern England, clubs began paying "broken time" payments to players, due to the loss of earnings from playing on a Saturday.

Ultimately the 22 leading clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire formed the Northern Rugby Football Union. The laws of the game were tweaked and "rugby league football" was born.

Now how spooky is that, possums? Is that history repeating it itself, albeit in the 21st Century and as "The Mother of all Schisms"?


It isn't just a coincidence that grinning New Zealand Rugby League officials this week announced the Great Britain Rugby League Lions are touring here and Papua New Guinea, not to mention the launching of the inaugural Oceania Cup during the June to November window.

The Oceania Cup will comprise the Kiwis, Australia, and Tonga in pool A and Samoa, Fiji and PNG in pool B.

"It reflects the enhanced profile, interest and competitiveness of International Rugby League. In particular, the Oceania Cup provides a tremendous new platform for the Pacific nations to compete on the world stage," says Rugby League Players' Association CEO Ian Prendergast.

Enough said. Let the games begin.

No doubt, New Zealand and other iron-fist rugby union nations will scoff at the rugby league sales pitch but the latter has prospered commercially, especially in Australia, and the number of Pacific Islanders playing the game has ballooned in the past decade or so.

That the Sunwolves are in the Super Rugby competition, ahead of a Pacific Island franchise, already speaks volumes on where the code is heading internationally. Photo / Photosport
That the Sunwolves are in the Super Rugby competition, ahead of a Pacific Island franchise, already speaks volumes on where the code is heading internationally. Photo / Photosport

All of a sudden, issues such as whether the island nations should be offered similar number of days to recover between games at the Rugby World Cup, pay parity and double standards of refereeing, between top-tier countries and lower-tier ones, seem so miniscule.

The radical plans to reshape rugby union's international calendar, understandably, have many believing it's time to start writing the epitaph of Pacific Island participation.

Conjecture reigns. Will the Dirty Dozen rugby union competition be "ring-fenced" to ensure the so-called "big dogs" will keep their snouts in the fiscal trough regardless of world rankings?

The word is the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, Pumas, Les Bleus, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, US and Japan will crouch, touch and set in 2020.

That means ninth-ranked Fiji and No 12 Georgia will miss out amid fears of no promotion and relegation in a decade-long gridlock.

The US, Japan, and Italy — ranked 11th, 13th, and 15th in the world, respectively — have been pencilled in because of their financial clout and TV-pulling power.

The Pacific Rugby Welfare group, which possesses a 600-strong membership including many professional players, is considering boycotting this year's world cup.

It' a great move because that'll expose the world cup for what it is — a small fish pond and others roped in to drag it out to boost profit margins.

World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot says "confusion" led to miscommunication.

Firstly, there shouldn't be any confusion. The top 12 world-ranked teams should be in.

Secondly, the amateur manner in which the news has been disseminated to create paranoia and insecurity is a PR disaster.

My hunch is the vision is always to offer contracts to elite islanders to play under other countries' banners, akin to mercenaries, because they'll have no choice but "to feed our families" rather than show patriotism.

And don't get me started on the Sunwolves playing in Super Rugby at the expense of a Pacific Island franchise, amid concerns of their inability to run a business entity.

Frankly New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia's silence is deafening.

Grumblings of self-preservation from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and skipper Kieran Read on predominantly player welfare, due to hectic schedules, is so myopic.

How can that possibly be more important than the demise of the Pacific Islands where rugby is part of the fabric of their culture, not just a game.

I'm afraid, we're looking more and more like Damien McKenzie overcooking a kick off.