1 Mar 2019

Sport: Proposed World League would mean 'death of Pacific rugby'

10:58 am on 1 March 2019

A proposed revamp of the international rugby calendar would "shut out" Pacific Island nations and spell the "death" of rugby in the region, according to leading players and officials.

World Rugby is in discussions to form a 12 team World League from 2020, including teams from the Six Nations, while the USA and Japan would be invited to join the Rugby Championship, at the expense of Pacific Island nations.

That would mean no room for Fiji, who are ranked ninth in the world and stunned France in Paris little over three months ago.

Fiji kept France scoreless in the second half.

The Flying Fijians upset France in November. Photo: AFP

Akapusi Qera played 65 tests for Fiji between 2005 and 2018 but said if the World League proposal went ahead more Pacific Island players would turn their backs on the international game.

"We will now likely just see more Pacific Island players retiring from test rugby and signing contracts with clubs in France and UK promising not to play test matches because they will not see the benefits or incentive anymore for turning our for their country," he said.

Georgia and Tonga are also set to miss the cut, despite being ranked higher than Italy, who have only managed 12 wins in 98 Six Nations matches.

Tonga have lost four straight tests against Georgia.

Georgia and Tonga are both set to miss out. Photo: Facebook/Georgian Rugby

The Chairman of Pacific Rugby Players, former Tonga flanker Hale T Pole, said: "This proposed format and structure would mean the death of Pacific Island rugby. Let alone this not recognising our contribution to the game historically, this makes us feel as if we are irrelevant to the future of the game at high levels."

Current 'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau said: "This competition only entrenches the unbalanced tiered system in rugby and widens the gap between the "haves and have nots".

"To make decisions like these on a pure commercial basis without considering the wider impact for rugby communities is ridiculous."

'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau.

'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

Two-time Rugby World Cup quarter finalists Samoa would also be left in the international rugby wilderness.

Manu Samoa captain Chris Vui said the lack of any promotion-relegation opportunity for countries outside of the invited teams would be extremely damaging.

"For countries in this bracket and for Pacific Islanders in particular, our biggest issue has always been the 'club vs country' factor," he said.

Manu Samoa captain Chris Vui.

Manu Samoa captain Chris Vui. Photo: AFP

"A 12-year deal is not workable, particularly when it presents no hope of advancement for during that period. This will have a dangerous knock-on effect of luring senior players away from their countries and more towards the clubs, which is the exact opposite of what we're all trying to achieve."

Former Manu Samoa midfielder Seilala Mapusua said excluding the Pacific Island nations would send the wrong message to aspiring players in the region.

"There are young 18-year-old Pacific Island players who will look at this and see that they will not be able to play against the big teams in the big stadiums for their whole career," he said.

"Twelve years locked out of this competition will mean more players choosing to play for New Zealand, England or other, because they will not see as much value playing for their home island nation."

Jack Lam scored as Samoa made a second half comeback.

Fiji and Samoa could miss out on tests against tier one nations. Photo: Facebook/Fiji Rugby

World Rugby Vice Chair breaks ranks to support Pacific teams

World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot has criticised the proposed World League competition and said Pacific Island nations should be included by right.

Responding on Twitter, the former Argentina captain Pichot said he "will never support a league that doesn't have a pathway for emerging nations" and expressed his support for a two tiered league with promotion/relegation and enough rest periods for the players.

He agreed Pacific Island teams deserved to be involved and emphasised that "nothing has been decided yet" and he doubts it will and he "won't stop trying."

The International Rugby Players Association has also hit out at the proposal, which would mean teams playing each other once during the year before semi-finals and a final in the northern hemisphere in December.

"While players gave this idea a cautious welcome when we met at the end of last year, it now seems like a commercial deal on the future of the game is being negotiated at a rapid pace with little consideration given to the important points we raised with World Rugby in November," said Ireland first five Johnny Sexton, who is the President of the global players' union.

"To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level test matches in consecutive weeks in November is out of touch and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings."

Ireland first five Johnny Sexton.

World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton has voiced concern over the proposal. Photo: © INPHO 2018

All Blacks captain Kieran Read said test rugby would suffer if the proposal went ahead and player concerns over workload had to be taken into account.

"We need to be very careful that we balance the commercial needs of the game, with the player welfare needs and ensure the quality and integrity of matches meets expectations," Read said.

"Fans want to see meaningful games; they don't want to see fatigued players playing a reduced quality of rugby as part of a money-driven, weakened competition that doesn't work for the players or clubs."

Beauden Barrett is wrapped up by Alapati Leiua and Kieron Fonotia during the Pasifika Challenge test between the All Blacks and Manu Samoa.

Matches like the All Blacks vs Manu Samoa could become a thing of the past. Photo: PHOTOSPORT