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Samoa PM pushes for rugby law change
1:19 pm GMT+12, 13/08/2010, Samoa
The Pacific leaders Forum in Vanuatu last week identified climate change as the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the Pacific.

But in the corridors of power, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegoai told Samoa Observer, “We discussed rugby players’ eligibility.

Those Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players who have been All Blacks or Wallabies who are no longer wanted by them. Generally the leaders’ agreed they should be allowed to come and play for their country of birth or heritage.”

He is referring to players like Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Rodney So’oialo who with 120 All Black caps among them, were all born in Samoa, no longer wanted by the All Blacks but may still be good enough to turn out for Manu Samoa.

For Fiji there’s Josevata Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu and more.

An avid rugby fan who is also the Samoa Rugby Union Chairman, his sights are set higher than just Samoa’s national interest.

“For the game of rugby to continue to prosper globally, international rugby must be seen to be genuinely competitive across a bigger number of national teams especially when you’re talking about the Rugby World Cup showcasing a true global sport – you need to have the smaller nations competing with the major nations. Just look at what NZ’s All Whites soccer team did for soccer in NZ as a result of its World Cup performance.
“Not only will it be more exciting and attractive for spectators worldwide, a successful or competitive national team acts like a fireworks display, it attracts people from near and far to play and we will get more youngsters to want to play the sport.”

Tuala Mathew Vaea, Samoa’s High Performance Manager agrees with Tuilaepa.

“The advantage in having this small group of players is their vast international experience. Even better if they also fit into the pattern and game plan our Head Coach has in mind which means their experience would become a very real and tangible difference to the performance of tier-2 and tier-3 nations they represent. And that’s just a good healthy dose for the game at all levels. Just look at what Sevens has done in Kenya, Russia, USA, Portugal.”

The move for change follows the watering-down of proposals to the International Rugby Board, in a push to change eligibility rules late last year. Currently, the IRB’s recommendation is that players could turn out for a country’s ‘second’ national team, such as the New Zealand Juniors, and not have their eligibility captured.
The new plan says players can also be selected in a national team’s match day squad of 22 and remain free to switch allegiance as long as they don’t take the field.

But the watered down version has been rubbished for not going far enough. The original proposal put forward by the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions (FORU) of which Samoa’s Tauiliili Harry Schuster is President was backed by New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. It was designed to allow individuals from tier one nations to stand down for 12 months and play for a tier two nation, as long as they were eligible.

But IRB politics intervened. According to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, “We have been told that a minority group from the Northern hemisphere successfully argued it was discriminatory. They feared how quickly Fiji, Tonga and us could improve if the laws were changed.
“But let’s be realistic, opening the eligibility rules won’t necessarily mean there will be a flood of players coming over to represent the island nations. We also have great players here. It’s more in specific positions such as lock, first fives where we need depth. All I can see is it’ll be a good thing because rugby the game is the winner in the end.”

His solution is for New Zealand and Australia and other tier-1 nations to pick their top 15 players and 15 reserves,

“And any player not in that group should be let go to try their luck in their home country.”

The International Players’ Association is supporting the change, as it believes a number of developing nations could be instantly strengthened.

There are significant numbers of experienced All Blacks, senior men no longer wanted but still quality players, who could become available. This proposal represents a cost-effective and tangible initiative to improve playing ability growth of the game without compromising integrity.

Tuilaepa in Vanuatu gained political support of his peers in the region on the eligibility issue, it’s now a matter of the rugby authorities to come to the party.

“Samoa, Fiji and Tonga rugby players and administrators have contributed and supported NZ and Australian rugby for a long time now. We have also gained much from these countries but right now this is crucial to our performance and ability to be a rugby stronghold. All we’re now asking is for them to push harder to make this come true.

“It’ll be their goodwill gesture that will let these players express their talents on the field for their country, and improve rugby as the best game spectator sport in the world with more teams the chance and opportunity to be successful – now that’s the true test of a what makes a global sport.”.


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