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All Blacks lock and newly minted Samoa tourism ambassador Patrick Tuipulotu has spoken out on the “broken promises” he feels that have impeded the expansion of the professional game into the Pacific Islands region.
Tuipulotu and Wallabies prop forward Scott Sio were part of a media call to publicise their recent appointments as ambassadors for the Samoa Tourism Authority. Both are expected to be part of Bledisloe III at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Saturday night which doubles as the opening game of the new Tri-Nations championship playing out in Australia over the next six weeks.
The All Blacks can clinch the Bledisloe Cup for an 18th straight year with a second straight victory over their trans-Tasman rivals, while a Wallabies win would keep them alive heading into their rematch in Brisbane seven days later.
Naturally, given their Samoan affiliations, the subject of the lack of progress in including a Pasifika side in Super Rugby, and the general frustration that there aren’t more tests involving the world’s leading nations in the islands was broached.
“There is always a frustration there,” said Tuipulotu, who considers himself a New Zealand-born Samoan. “There are always a lot of moving cogs that get in the way and it’s always hard like that.
“What we can do as players, I guess, is keep raising the awareness that this is something for us, something we want. Then again, there are a lot of hoops to go through and a lot of cogs to move before we can get anywhere.
“It’s almost like there have been a lot of broken promises over the years and it’s hard to really start something.”
There had been high-end talk out of New Zealand around involving a Pasifika team in Super Rugby as early as 2021 after the Covid-enforced breakup of the existing competition. It was one of the recommendations of the Aratipu report on the future of the professional game.
But New Zealand Rugby recently put that on hold until at least 2022, much to the frustration of the Auckland-based Moana Pasifika bid which believed the time was right to embrace the islands game and the support for it on both sides of the Tasman.
Tuipulotu believed an Auckland-based Pasifika team in Super Rugby would be “received really well” and would have the support both financially and from fans to make it viable.
“The population in Auckland is pretty busy in terms of a lot pf Pacific Island nations,” said the All Blacks lock. “You’d probably get more supporters there than to a Blues game at Eden Park.
“It’s something that would be received really well and would be something pretty cool that a lot of fans, not only in Auckland, but around New Zealand and Australia would jump on board.”
Sio, the son of former Manu Samoa front-rower Tavita Sio, echoed Tuipulotu’s feelings of frustration.
“It’s not that players don’t want to travel there,” he said. “There are a lot of boxes needing to be ticked and we don’t have a lot of influence on a lot of that. But we can use our platform to keep raising that awareness that we think it’s a great opportunity for both countries to expand and grow the game of rugby.
“You’ve got to start somewhere and if we can start that conversation and help it grow it’s only going to benefit us in the long run.”
Tuipulotu, the 32-test lock and Blues captain, has been expanding his connection with the homeland of his parents of late. He was recently awarded an honorary chief (Matai) title in Samoa and has been learning the language.
After a Blues Super Rugby Aotearoa match earlier this year he began his post-match interview with a response in the Samoan language.
“I thought, ‘look, I’m learning the language, I might as well start putting it out there’. So in an after-match interview I just thought why not? It got received really well, and from there TJ [Perenara] started to address his after-match speeches in Maori as well. That was a good starting point for the whole theme of representing wherever you’re from, and putting it on the stage.
“This is part of the journey of myself getting to reconnect with my roots, find out more about my heritage and at the same time try to give back and put Samoa back on the map,” he said.
“Out there on the stage I’m proud to be a New Zealand-born Samoan, and it’s about being in the spotlight knowing I am a Samoan and proud to be one.”
And from one Samoan to another, Tuiupulotu did not mind putting to bed any suggestions there was a soft underbelly to this Wallabies side, as had been speculated in some media quarters in New Zealand following the All Blacks’ 27-7 victory at Eden Park.
“After the last two weeks my body is telling me otherwise,” said Tuipulotu. “It’s easy for people on the sidelines to do a lot of talking, but I know Scott and the boys, as well as us, would have been feeling quite sore after the last few weeks and it will be no different on Saturday.
“There is no such thing as soft men in a test match.”.
SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS
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