There was once a time when nearly the whole Manu Samoa team played Super Rugby.
Back in the early days of Super 12, Brian Lima played for Auckland Blues, Potu Leavasa, Tupo Faamasino, George Leaupepe and Lome Faatau played for the Hurricanes, Lio Falaniko and To’o Vaega for the Highlanders, and Afato So’oalo on the wing for the Crusaders, amongst others.
Today, apart from Tusi Pisi – who had always played his rugby in New Zealand – only Manu Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger comes off the bench for the Highlanders.
It raises the question, are players who have committed themselves to Samoa – Fiji and Tonga also – being deliberately shut out of Super Rugby? Namely, by the NZRU?
The same could be asked for Australia and South Africa, but Super Rugby franchises in these two countries have never been accessible to Samoa-committed players.
It also raises the question, what does SANZAR – now including Argentina – doing for Pacific Island rugby?
There are reported talks underway to expand Super Rugby to include possible franchises in Tokyo and California. Where does that leave Samoa, Tonga and Fiji?
When was the last time a Super Rugby franchise recruited from Samoa? If we recall, the last player was Afato So’oalo back in 1998. He helped the Crusaders to a brace of Super Rugby crowns.
It is little wonder that the viewing public here have become disillusioned with SANZAR and its not-so-Super Rugby.
It seems they are willing to bend over for any other country but Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, right next door. This is not lost on us here in the islands.
Rugby Sevens and the continuing success of the Samoa Sevens team, we must say, has come to capture the public’s imagination, because the team is locally-based, the players are visibly identifiable to an adoring public.
The reality for our budding players here who wish to secure a professional contract in the 15-man code, the onus is to make the sevens team then hopefully get noticed and picked up by a European club.
Thank God for European professional rugby.
Eight of Manu Samoa’s World Cup squad, including sevens players Ofisa Treviranus, Fautua Otto and Alafoti Fa’osiliva (on a short stint with Toulon), secured pro contracts with clubs in England, Ireland and France. None in Super Rugby.
On top of shutting out Pacific Island-committed players, All Blacks coach Graham Henry back in 2007 had the gall to tell European clubs not to recruit from the islands anymore.
Fortunately for us, the club owners there did not take his advice. European club rugby after all, recruits on the basis of bringing over the best players in the world to their competitions. Super Rugby, on the other hand, is solely to strengthen the national teams of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They are also ever greedy for more money and are openly courting the Japanese and Americans.
It made the latest sevens victory in Las Vegas all the more sweeter. That despite the hurdles they put up against us, occasionally, we beat odds. We humble them in front of the rugby world.