Breaking the old New Zealand poaching myth

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By , Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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    I’ve noticed a resurgence in the age-old ‘New Zealand poach players rhetoric’ once again. People are obviously going to have their own take on this, but claiming players, without knowing basic facts about them is madness!

    Here are some facts: Ethnicity and nationality are two different things. According to The Economist, “Nationality is acquired by birth or adoption, marriage, or descent”, which can vary from country to country. So in general terms, nationality refers to birthplace and/or citizenship held.

    For example, I have dual citizenship, one by birth and the other by descent, ergo I have two nationalities. On the other hand, ethnicity is “the term for the culture of people in a given geographic region, including their language, heritage, religion and customs”.

    Using myself as an example again, my father was English, my mother was of Serbian descent, so my ethnicity is Anglo-Serbian.

    Here’s where it gets tricky for some: my ethnicity doesn’t necessarily determine my nationality. I am not English, neither am I Serb. I am a New Zealander. Now, if I identified more with the nationality of my parents, this might be different. But I identify as a Kiwi because it’s where I was raised and learnt how to socialize which is important as it is when we inherit and disseminate society’s “norms, customs, and ideologies“.

    Basically, I am the person I am because of New Zealand.

    Let’s relate this to the All Blacks. There have been a total of 1160 All Blacks, from James Allen (number 1) to Ngani Laumape (number 1160). According to a 2014 article penned by Cleaver and Singh, “out of a total of 1132 ABs, only 33 were Pacific Islanders not born in NZ”.

    Unfortunately, “if your name sounds remotely Samoan, Tongan or Fijian, you must be from there”, according to many critics of New Zealand rugby.

    This which frustrates me. Just because a person has a name from somewhere else, doesn’t mean they are. Check out my name!

    I could list many players here, but I’m only going to list those I’ve seen as being recently heralded as players New Zealand has poached:

    Jonah Lomu: born in Auckland.
    Joe Rokocoko: born in Nadi and immigrated with his family to Auckland when he was five.
    Ma’a Nonu: born in Wellington.
    Jerome Kaino: born in American Samoa and immigrated with his family when he was four.
    Sonny Bill Williams: born in Auckland.
    Julian Savea: born in Wellington.

    Jerome Kaino New Zealand All Blacks Test Rugby Rugby Union 2016

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    If New Zealand Rugby can see potential in a four or five-year-old in order to poach them, then they should bottle that ability, sell it and try and make the cash needed to keep our players in New Zealand! A player who moved here at four or five years old because his parents emigrated isn’t poached! All his schooling has been in New Zealand and New Zealand is where he learnt rugby.

    So why shouldn’t he play for NZ? Even Augustin Pichot, World Rugby vice-chairman, agrees: “There are special cases where players moved when they were ten or 12 years old”.

    My reading of this is if a kid emigrates with their parents they are entitled to play for the country they emigrated to. Obviously, they shouldn’t be punished, later on, for a decision their parents made. Perhaps we should look at this dilemma from the player’s point of view.

    Bevan Cadwallader, coach development manager at Auckland rugby and selector for the New Zealand under-20s side, suggests that many Kiwi boys only have the option of the All Blacks and if they’re not good enough, that’s it, “whereas some of those boys who were born in New Zealand but have the ancestry to be able to play back in the islands or play in Europe” have extra opportunities available to them.

    Surely that’s a good thing for them and their families.

    New Zealand is a South Pacific nation and is home to many proud Pacifica people, many of whom have been here for decades. Unfortunately, the fact that Auckland is the largest Pacific city in the world doesn’t seem to resonate with some: “If you’re born in Manukau, you should be playing for your island nation, some scribes would appear to suggest”.

    As a colonised Pacific nation, we are multi-cultural. Most of us are fiercely proud of the ethnically diverse makeup of our country, and indeed, the All Blacks. That diversity strengths our team, of course, that’s the issue, isn’t it!

    Augustin Pichot believes “moving to a country, being taken from an academy, like they are doing in Tonga, and put into play, say, in an Ireland shirt” is wrong. Many put Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo in this category, but as both of these players attended high school in New Zealand (Wesley Collage and Wanganui City College respectively) according to Pichot’s prerequisites, they too, are okay. If only barely!

    Sonny Bill Williams New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Pemberton)

    However, I must say I agree that taking kids from the Islands and putting them straight into representative teams is wrong. But the continuing suggestion that New Zealand is the only country doing it, is incorrect.

    According to The Roar, “French rugby clubs are now actively recruiting impoverished Fijians of school age with the lure of professional careers in Europe”. For example, Brive and Clermont and Brive have “academies in Fiji in a bid to secure a steady stream of young talent”.

    I agree with The Roar when they suggest that “any agents or clubs found to be enticing children from the Pacific Islands under the age of 18 into signing agreements or professional contracts should be severely penalised” but I guess building fancy academies in the Islands is a way around this, unfortunately, ending with the same result.

    But, and this is a big but, why shouldn’t players from Pacific Islands have the same opportunities as those from countries like New Zealand? Should Pacific Islanders be relegated to the sidelines as mere spectators instead of moving abroad? Or should World Rugby do more to develop rugby in those nations?

    I think the latter.

    World Rugby needs to do more to help develop the game in the Pacific Islands. It’s not fair that the Island nations are giving so much to global rugby and receiving so little in return. At the very least players should be released to play for their national teams.

    But let’s not forget that many of the world’s unions are being supplemented by New Zealanders these days. Kiwis are coaching many Northern Hemisphere clubs and national teams, over and above those playing for them. The possibility of playing Test rugby for another nation is “difficult to ignore for players whose All Black’s prospects don’t look great“.

    Wayne Pivac, head coach of the Scarlets, asserts that Kiwis, seeing the likes of Jared Payne playing for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions makes them think, ‘Well if I can’t be an All Black, the next best thing is playing for another nation’.

    Waisake Naholo New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union 2016

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    Although it’s sad to see players go offshore, who can blame them? Again, they need to think of their futures and families. Pivac, who also coached Fiji, said he sees a difference between why Kiwis and Pacific Islanders head to the Northern Hemisphere. For Kiwis, it’s the opportunity to make a Test team if that’s not looking possible in New Zealand, but for the Pacific Islanders, it’s more about “what that change can do for them” and their families.

    It will be interesting to see how the changes to Regulation eight (residency and international rugby) will affect the current situation, or as I suspect, if it has any effect at all.

    However, there’s another change World Rugby has and it’s also quite interesting; players in under-20s teams will no longer be tied to that country. Now, this opens up the door for earlier enticement from overseas clubs. I see this particular law change being more detrimental to New Zealand than any other country.

    However, in saying that, I believe the lure of the All Black jersey, and the benefits of having worn one (obviously adds value when negotiating), will supersede the instant gratification of a Northern Hemisphere contract. Both law changes will be introduced from 1/1/2018.

    So to those who accuse New Zealand of being rugby colonists and claim New Zealand-born players as their own, you need to do some research as to where people were born. If you’re able to make accusations, you have the technical skills to look up player bios on the internet.