“Fiji effectively go out of the World Cup in the first five days, to me that is ridiculously unfair”
The words of David Campese come in the wake of Fiji having lost to two of the tournament’s favourites England and Australia in the space of five days. Campese contends that every four years the Pacific Islands suffer at the hands of the tournament’s organisers when it comes to scheduling. Campese compares the plight of Tonga in the last world cup where they played the hosts New Zealand on a Friday evening and then had to play Canada just five days later (a fixture which they unfortunately lost 25-20). With hindsight, had Tonga beaten the Canadians, France would not have qualified from Pool A and they would not have played in the final at Eden Park four years ago.
It is not only the scheduling of the games which is having a detrimental effect on the Pacific Islands, Samoan international Dan Leo has spoken out about the pre-tournament contract negotiations that have seen Pacific nations such as Samoa losing up to a third of their players. The big money clubs such as Toulon and Toulouse have offered players eye-watering contracts to hang up their boots from the international stage which to many players are simply too good to refuse.
33 Year old Cencus Johnston has, according to Leo, been offered a further two year extension on his current contract at Toulouse which means that whilst under contract with the French giant he will not represent Samoa in the World Cup.
Another international tight-head, ex Newcastle Falcons’ Carl Hayman, was offered £425,000 more to remain with Toulon rather than represent the All Blacks at the World Cup in 2011. In the final New Zealand won, leaving him, short of a World Cup Medal.
Rugby players are not paid the same sums of money than the likes of Ronaldo and Messi in the round ball game. With the highly publicised injury statistics surrounding the game the average professional rugby career is around 8 years. It is clear that players have to earn as much as possible in what is becoming an increasingly shorter career.
Both Johnson and Hayman were lured by the French salary cap which is markedly higher than other European clubs. The impact of the French salary cap has divided opinion in the Welsh and English camps. The Welsh Rugby Union (“WRU”) currently allows players who play their rugby in France to represent their country; high profile exports have included the likes of Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and James Hook in recent seasons.
In contrast, the English Rugby Union (“RFU”) and Stuart Lancaster in particular are very adamant that they will not select players who are earning their living playing in France and that players must understand they will forego their chance to represent England, placing ‘the health of the English game ahead of any short term gain.’
Lancaster has come under scrutiny for overlooking Toulon’s Steffon Armitage in particular, as many pundits in the game have stated Armitage is the only specialist openside flanker that could counteract the marvels over the ball in the form of Australia’s David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
For nations like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga there is no way they could take the stance of the RFU and overlook picking players placed abroad as their respective unions can’t afford to centrally contract the players. Their woes are further compounded by the cash rich clubs such as Toulon and Toulouse offering exorbitant wages to their stars. The club versus country row will rumble on for another four years and unless the Pacific Islands receive substantial financial assistance the Pacific nations will continue to be underpowered on the world stage.