12 Mar 2020

Sport: Pacific Island players won't be captured by All Blacks XV

1:41 pm on 12 March 2020

Rugby players with Pacific Island heritage will still be eligible to represent Fiji, Samoa or Tonga if they turn out for the newly-formed All Blacks XV.

New Zealand Rugby announced this week that the new high performance team will assemble later this year and play three matches, including one against the Flying Fijians in Vancouver.

Solomon Alaimalo

Solomon Alaimalo is eligible to play for both New Zealand and Samoa. Photo: Photosport

NZR Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said the team would provide a new national team aspiration for current professional players, and a career step towards the All Blacks for many.

"The All Blacks XV will be our second-tier team below the All Blacks and made up New Zealand's 'next best' players," he said.

NZ Rugby Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass.

NZ Rugby Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The All Blacks XV effectively replaces the Junior All Blacks, who have not played since 2009, and will be recognised as New Zealand's second-tier men's national 15-a-side team.

Pacific Rugby Players chief executive Aayden Clarke said New Zealand Rugby had agreed that players who turn out for the new team in 2020 would not have their international eligibility captured by New Zealand.

"Once it was announced I was straight on the phone," he said.

"We were just working through the detail but I've been reassured by both Nigel Cass and Rob [Nichol from the New Zealand Rugby Players Association] that it's been agreed if this team goes ahead, which obviously has had to come under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that it wouldn't be a capturing team."

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

The agreement is only guaranteed for 2020 at this stage, with New Zealand players currently in negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2021 onwards.

That means the likes of Chiefs fullback Solomon Alaimalo and Hurricanes utility Vince Aso, who are eligible for New Zealand and Samoa, Fiji-born Crusaders winger Manasa Mataele and Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava, who was born in Tonga, could play for the All Blacks XV but still keep their international options open.

Crusaders winger Manasa Mataele was born in Fiji.

Crusaders winger Manasa Mataele was born in Fiji. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

There were initial fears the team could be used as a vehicle to capture the test status of players eligible to represent more than one nation, with players such as Robbie Fruean, Tane Tu'ipulotu and Nick Williams among those who turned out for the Junior All Blacks and were denied the chance to represent Samoa or Tonga at test level.

Aayden Clarke said Pacific Island rugby unions would have been very unhappy if the All Blacks XV was used as a way to prevent more Pacific Island players from having the opportunity to represent their heritage.

"I know I've seen plenty on social media and also other stakeholders asking that question - and quite rightly to be honest - but we've had reassurance that it's not going to be so we're feeling a lot more comfortable about that now."

Former Blues number eight Nick Williams playing for the Junior All Blacks against Japan A in 2006.

Former Blues number eight Nick Williams playing for the Junior All Blacks against Japan A in 2006. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

World Rugby sends an email to member nations every year asking them to nominate a second-tier capturing team, underneath the senior men's sevens and fifteen-a-side teams, but unions do not have to do so if they don't want to.

The Fiji Warriors, Samoa A and Tonga A are currently competing in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in Suva this month and Aayden Clarke said these teams can also be a very important tool for national unions trying to retain home-grown talent at test match level.

"It's a push and pull that's been going on especially over the last months as we lead into the Pacific Rugby Challenge because you want those players to be captured so that they're going to end up wearing a Flying Fijians, Manu Samoa or 'Ikale Tahi jersey one day," he said.

"But there's also the clubs and the agents and even in some instances the players who are a bit reluctant to box themselves in early on in their careers who possibly realise their value may be different in other markets...and it's an ongoing thing every year."

Tonga A were no match for Fiji Warriors in this year's World Rugby Pacific Challenge.

Tonga A were no match for Fiji Warriors in this year's World Rugby Pacific Challenge. Photo: World Rugby/Zoomfiji

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