Don’t get your hopes up of rugby coming up with a Jason Taumalolo moment when it votes on the vexed player-eligibility issue this month.
It would be lovely to be proven wrong, but when the World Rugby council members ponder whether to allow players to change Test teams during their career – permitting former Wallabies and All Blacks to represent the Pacific Islands – doing the right thing is going to clash with self-interest.
The proposal needs 75 per cent of the 52 World Rugby council members to say yes. At first glance, this doesn’t appear too onerous but the hurdles become apparent when you look at how the council is formed.
In short, the “bigger” nations get more votes. For example, Italy and Scotland each have three members on the council, by virtue of their inclusion in the Six Nations. Samoa get one, as do Fiji. Tonga aren’t represented directly at all.
You can see where this is going. The “no” vote only needs 14 supporters to scupper the proposal. For argument’s sake, let’s say Scotland, Italy and Ireland – the three countries whom the finger is sometimes pointed at when it comes to eligibility – all say no. That’s nine votes. Argentina (three votes) might do likewise, given how they are a “homegrown” Test nation, while Sudamerica Rugby might agree with Argentina and use their two votes to reject the proposal. Already, that’s the 14 votes needed to make sure the likes of former All Black Charles Piutau can’t simply play for Tonga at the next World Cup.
Perhaps I’m doing these nations a disservice. Perhaps they saw the joyous scenes in Auckland at the Rugby League World Cup – when Tongans filled the stadia to celebrate Taumalolo – and have decided rugby needs something similar.
Jason Taumalolo has helped Tonga become an international rugby league force.Credit:NRL Photos
However, with self-interest an unbackable favourite in most races, it is very hard to see what’s in it for them in supporting a change that would empower the Pacific Island teams. A fully weaponised Samoa or Tonga (I exclude Fiji because I think their program is doing fine as it is) would clearly present a danger to the middle tier of world rugby, threatening their ranking positions and all the prestige and commercial benefits that follow.
It is a frustration for fans in this part of the world, but put their positions in context. In the north, the popular view remains that the All Blacks and Wallabies already do very well from their proximity to the Pacific Islands, so voting to permit players to jump between nations would be akin to exposing themselves to a sort of double jeopardy. They could lose to the same players twice – once against the All Blacks/Wallabies, and again to Tonga and Samoa.
If this proposal does not get up, I’ll be sad. It will effectively disregard the many structural inequalities in the system that leads to Tonga being beaten 102-0 by the All Blacks, as they did in July. But if I was an executive in the “Home Countries”, there is no way I’d vote for it.
However, there is an argument that says although this eligibility vote has become something of a cause celebre, there are other changes that would help Pacific Islands rugby more in the long run. Does it really help the Pacific Islands to get athletes whose juice might have already been squeezed out by the so-called tier one nations?
If players are required to observe a two- or three-year stand-down period before making the switch to Tonga or Samoa, they may not be the players they once were.
Perhaps the solution – or one of them, as there is no silver bullet – is the one that has been staring everyone in the face: a proper, organised Test season that gives Pacific Island teams meaningful games, and the ability to capture players in their prime. Rugby needs to get the Nations Cup concept going in 2024.
That is why I am so excited by the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, despite the obvious hurdles. Those two teams are the missing link, the pathway they can give to a 20-year-old that offers a tangible link to the Test arena. That’s where I see the growth for the Pacific Islands, especially if common sense prevails, Australia gets the 2027 Rugby World Cup and makes it one for the entire region.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.
Watch every match of the Wallabies, All Blacks & Springboks Spring Tours on the home of rugby, Stan Sport. Wales v New Zealand streaming ad-free, live and on-demand this Sunday from 3.05am AEDT.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article