Protecting the diversity of world rugby: How can we save the Pacific nations?

The Doc Roar Pro

By The Doc, The Doc is a Roar Pro

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    Having a Fijian team in the NRC is one example of how to help Fiji rugby. (Image: Kevin Juggins)

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    ​In the world of tennis, the serve and volleyers were once kings of the game. They showed an instinct and freedom for the game that was a beauty to behold.

    Rushing to the net following a serve, they had split seconds to adjust and return the ball.

    But the game of tennis evolved, with the professional era heralding firstly a change in racquets and an emphasis on baseline play that resulted in the governing bodies making a decision to homogenise court speed and reducing the duration of the grass court season.

    Ultimately, the loss of diversity was the cost tennis fans had to pay. Gone are the days of Pat Rafter launching himself at volleys and matches pitting volleyer versus baseliner. The governing body allowed the art of serve volley to die.

    I fear the same for the Island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. We must not allow these great rugby nations to wither and fall away. They bring so much to the world of rugby and we must do everything we can to nurture and protect these nations.

    The Samoan rugby federation has huge financial issues and funds are at a premium. The English RFU has agreed to provide a percentage of their gate receipt to assist Samoan rugby, and while this is a truly generous gesture we will need more ideas to ensure the sustainability of rugby in Samoa.

    Fiji is potentially next but perhaps its success in the sevens domain helps insulate them a bit more than other countries. Rugby governance is certainly not my strong-suit and I will more wiser heads to discuss that.

    I was driven to write this after watching the Scotland-Samoa game and even more so by the Ireland-Fiji game from last weekend. What a sight to behold. The contrast between Ireland and Fiji could not be greater.

    Joe Schmidt’s side are the epitome of structure, gaining territory through excellent tactical kicking and pinning Fiji down in the back half. Their play off set pieces was excellent and their defence well drilled, advancing as a unit with tremendous line speed. But for all of Ireland’s structural qualities, they lack x-factor.

    This is in direct contrast to Fiji who have x-factor in spades but could with more playing time together would have a chance to develop the structural foundations that could catapult them into the Tier 1 bracket of rugby nations.

    If you could combine Ireland’s structures with Fiji’s x-factor and counter attacking skill, it would be quite something – but alas we can only dream.


    (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

    One of the first things I noticed was the quality of passing and offloading by the Fijians. When in space, they were able to throw long laser like passes to the advantage of their receiving teammates. The receiver never had to break stride and it was always a nice catchable height.

    The willingness and ability to offload has long been a strength. Time and time again under the face of extreme pressure from a rapidly advancing defender, a Fijian player was able to use quick hands to move the ball along and maintain the movement. Perhaps we take these things for granted but the consistency and quality of their short and long passing gave Ireland problems all night.

    Their intuitive skill when in open space was also a sight to behold. Both wingers showed an ability to quickly put the ball on the boot and then chase to either regather or place the Irish defence under pressure. The ability to do this under pressure while hugging the sideline was first rate.

    Fiji's Kitione Taliga during Day 1 at London 7s 2016, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series - Photo: Martin Seras Lima

    Photo: Martin Seras Lima

    But for all their strength on the counter and open running play, Fiji showed a certain unexpected stability in the set pieces. The scrum was solid all night and was an even match for an Irish pack admittedly missing their frontline stars.

    They kept things simple in the lineout, mostly throwing short and high with the odd gutsy deep throw (there was even one throw beyond the lineout when deep in their own 22).

    The Fijian mentality to constantly run the ball has its drawbacks and they were caught running the ball from deep and it was perhaps only good fortune that they did not concede more penalties or turnovers from these misadventures.

    As Kurtley Beale’s error against England at Twickenham showed, sometimes you have to play the percentages – if you are isolated and receive the ball in your 22 then take the safe option and punt it as long as you can or put the ball into the 10th row and live to fight another day.

    But as the game wore on, the Fijians learned from the mistakes and they played the percentages both when exit kicking and also minimising the glory offloads and taking the ball into contact instead.

    Watching Ireland and Fiji play was to see two contrasting styles – ala the old days of the a disciplined Andre Agassi playing a fearless serve and volleying Pat Rafter. Ireland-Fiji was just a truly enjoyable match to watch and reminded me of why they say rugby is the game they play in heaven.

    We must not let the Island nations flounder and world rugby must find a way to create a sustainable future for these nations.

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    The Crowd Says (87)

    • November 25th 2017 @ 3:22am
      Jock Cornet said | November 25th 2017 @ 3:22am | ! Report

      Aust just steal the best and use these islands as academy so they don’t have to develop a dynamic club competition to develop our own. It is a disgrace we don’t play them more often and finNcially contribute more to these great rugby nations. The ARU are a disgrace.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:08am
        republican said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        ……as do NZ……

        • November 25th 2017 @ 12:51pm
          richard said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          No,they don’t.If it were up to me,you would only play for the country in which you are born,or gone through the systems.

          Then the myth of NZ poaching would be truly exposed.

          • November 27th 2017 @ 1:48am
            Brainstrust said | November 27th 2017 @ 1:48am | ! Report

            NZ rugby are the biggest financial thieves in world rugby and they do more damage to the Pacific nations that way that anyone else. Other nations stealing the Pacific island players matter little.
            The biggest laugh is this so called charity, with friends like NZ you don’t need enemies.
            NZ played a match In Samoa and SAmoan rugby were faced with massive costs.
            This is like saying I am doing you a favour by having dinner with you because I am doing it free of charge, you just have to pay my costs including a flights and a five star hotel, etc.
            NZ threatened to boycott the world cup to make sure all the money was going to the big 10.
            They made sure the PAcific islands were eliminated from super rugby ages ago.

            • November 27th 2017 @ 9:13am
              richard said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

              Wow,you really believe this,don’t you?

              How are we the biggest thieves? NZ is a nursery for pretty much every country,other than SA and Argentina.And that incl. coaches.

              And why should NZ have covered the costs to W.Samoa? As others have pointed out,WR gives millions to the islands.Where has it all gone? Well,look no further than their PM ( who also happens to be Chairman of the SRU).For all that,I wouldn’t have had a problem with NZ if they had covered the costs.

              Another fairy tale.NZ threatened to boycott ( during the 2011 RWC) due to the rising costs of staging the event.Funnily enough,they had the backing of the ARU,for that very reason.And recent events have confirmed NZ’s fears with France being given the 2023 RWC,solely based on how much revenue they could generate for the WR.

              Your last point,sorry,wrong again.Nothing to do with NZ.The PI countries have made it clear they would only come in as separate entities,a composite side won’t work as their are too many cultural differences between the islands.And to put it all on NZ is laughable,Aus have hardly been an advocate of PI rugby.

              Your points are risible.

              • November 27th 2017 @ 6:41pm
                Brainstrust said | November 27th 2017 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

                No world rugby gives 15 million pounds to NZ every four years , the rest of the Pacific gets that money between them. The biggest difference is that NZ rugby has a budget of about 100 million pounds a year, so why do they need the extra 4 million a year whereas Samoa would double their budget.
                NZ threatened to boycott the 2015 world cup over payments not the 2011.

          • Roar Rookie

            November 27th 2017 @ 5:22pm
            piru said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

            Brainstrust – 2008 called, it wants it’s outdated and incorrect argument back

            • November 28th 2017 @ 10:28am
              richard said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

              “WR gives NZ 15 million pounds every 4 yrs” you don’t seriously expect anyone to believe that,do you? Evidence? although I won’t be holding my breath.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 5:15pm
        Pavid Docock said | November 25th 2017 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

        Happy to see Ben Volavola developing as a 10 for Fiji. He was a product of the Newington system – so Sydney born and raised. He was an excellent fly-half for Southern Districts, but wasn’t really given enough of a chance at Super rugby level in my opinion.

        Although his defense is incredibly suspect, and his decision making is questionable at times, I would have loved to have seen him have the opportunity to compete with the likes of Foley et al for the Wallabies five-eight spot (I think I’m right in saying that he actually defends at 10 unlike recent Wallaby 10s).

        He throws some of the flattest passes I’ve seen in recent times and played pretty well in Fiji’s recent Ireland loss.

        One of the rare occasions where a Pacific Island team poached a player from one of the “1st tier nations”.

        All the best to him!

        • November 25th 2017 @ 5:30pm
          Pavid Docock said | November 25th 2017 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

          Fiji at least seem to be in good hands at a coaching level. John Mckee seems to do a good job selecting and developing the right players and implementing a more consistent structure in terms of gameplan.

          If they are able to retain their better performers they may even be a force in the coming World Cup. But as mentioned in the article, a huge challenge is getting the team together for a greater period of time so they can work towards playing as a cohesive unit.

          Kudos to NRC for introducing the Drua. More of those players will start appearing in the national setup soon I’m sure, and that will assist with building team cohesion.

          If the Pacific Island teams become stronger, and more competitive and consistent, it will hopefully bring fans back to game.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm
            Bakkies said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

            Not sure what McKee has against Josh Matavesi as he is a far better player then Volavola

            • November 26th 2017 @ 12:21am
              Pavid Docock said | November 26th 2017 @ 12:21am | ! Report

              I’ll have to keep an eye out for Matavesi.

              Peceli Nacebe will be another excellent option at the 10 spot when he recovers from his injury. Flyhalf stocks look promising for the Fijians.

            • November 26th 2017 @ 3:06pm
              Cuw said | November 26th 2017 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

              yeah Matavesi shud start and Volvo shud finish.

              more interesting is how Volvo developed after being dropped by Crusaders. usually its the other way around 🙂

    • November 25th 2017 @ 6:46am
      mzilikazi said | November 25th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Excellenrt article, Doc. I fully agree with you re the Ireland v Fiji game. And it gets me thinking back to Fiji playing the Boks in the World Cup some years back, where with better fortune, and better refereeing, Fiji could easily have beaten the Boks….and they went on to win that WC.

      This iissue you raise s something that many have been concerned about for years now……for me back to the emergence of the great Samoan side that contested the 1991 World Cup.

      Professional rugby has been wonderful for the island nations in one sense. A great number of players have had opportunities they would never have had in the amateur days. And a significant spinoff is money flowing back to the islands. I don’t have any real knowledge of the true facts on this one. Perhaps others have n more to comment on this one.

      However a big downside is the drain of often world class players away from these island teams. Australia and New Zealand have been huge beneficiaries. Now oothers are beginning to benefit…England, Wales etc.

      I fully accept that in many cases, it is the Australian and New Zealand schools that have often developed these players, and then those nations systems that have seen these players fully developed. Smaein other nations, especially England.

      These gems of rugby nations need to get some better return from the great number of wonderful players gracing the world stage for other nations. I would also like to see more players actually playing for their nations of origin or descent. For a start, make it easier for these nations players to move between countries. Foe example, allow players who have a few caps for other nations to opt back to the island nations without any time constraints. Especially for players no longer making the squads of Australia etc.

      Also some kind of levy arrangement could be put in place, and finance flow back to the islands from nations picking players of islan origin or descent.

      I will be interested to see what other comments come from this important article.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 7:21am
        Terry Tavita said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

        players like steven luatua, melani nanai, bryce heem and visinia could be useful for samoa.. their test careers are practically over before it ever started..

        • November 25th 2017 @ 7:33am
          Blagblah said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

          But then tonga and samoa would be more NZ C & D teams. Wouldn’t it be better if thier teams reflected the countries thay are representing.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 6:59pm
            Terry Tavita said | November 25th 2017 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

            they’re samoan..

            • November 25th 2017 @ 8:07pm
              Jacko said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:07pm | ! Report

              They are also NZ or Aus

      • November 25th 2017 @ 7:27am
        Blagblah said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

        NZ provides the likes of Tonga and Samoa with the majority of thier international players and gives samoa and tonga handouts annually. What more does the rugby world expect. Also, Paying a fee to select a NZ citizen of island heritage is a joke.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 12:58pm
          richard said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

          The rugby world expects NZ to supply the islands with all of their players.Trained and developed at NZ’s expense,of course.

          And while that is going on,the one’s who make the most noise i.e the NH are hoovering up what’s left.It is basically a means of attacking and undermining NZ rugby.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Kieron said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Mzilikazi… that was Tonga vs Boks ..not Fiji vs Boks. 2007 WRC

        • November 25th 2017 @ 8:53am
          mick said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

          It was definitely Fiji. They played South Africa in the quarters. That world cup Fiji had a pretty awesome team. They knocked Wales out at the pool stages and also beat Japan.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 9:41am
            jacko said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

            If I remember rightly it was the 95 WC and in the last 5 mins the refs awarded a try to SA to win the match which was clearly a very wrong decision. At the time i thought it was all designed to allow SA to continue in their home WC. Basically it stank. Also Fiji did well in the 1st WC i think making the Quarters as well.

            • November 25th 2017 @ 10:05am
              mzilikazi said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

              Jacko, don’t remember 95 WC…will have a look at that one. Fiji have indeed done well at RWC’s….and for 2019, I would prefer that they were not in WB’s pool. They should be very good.

              • November 25th 2017 @ 8:14pm
                Jacko said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

                Yes the more I think about it the more I think it was France in the semi that that happened too. I think Samoa may have made the quarters in 95 tho

        • November 25th 2017 @ 10:03am
          mzilikazi said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          Kieron, I did not check details of that game, but have done now. Fiji lost to the Boks at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, on 7th Oct 2007, by 37 – 20.

          Score looks like a clear win for the Boks, but examination of the game in detail would show a much closer contest. And a major factor against Fiji was the fact that Rupeni Caucau was serving a suspension. Had he played, IMO the Boks would have struggled to contain him.

          From memory, I don’t recall Tonga yet really producing anything close to an upset in RWC…but I hope they will one day….I have some good Tongan friends… of the “kids” is currently playing League for Australia. They did play in the 2007 RWC, but did not reach the KO stages.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 12:05pm
            gaeliaCallaghan said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

            Tonga beat France in 2011.

            • November 25th 2017 @ 8:21pm
              Jacko said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

              Yes 19 to 14

          • November 25th 2017 @ 2:46pm
            Bakkies said | November 25th 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

            I don’t think that the Boks have ever played Tonga in a RWC.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 7:24am
      Londoner said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      I certainly think allowing Polynesian players to play for either one of the islands or Australia or New Zealand is a good thing.
      I would like to see a stronger Polynesian set up.

      It will make the world cup stronger and it does make sense as these players are born in Auckland or Sydney but also have strong cultural ties to the Islands.
      The issue for world rugby is would they be Turning over the likes of Ireland, Wales and France?
      And putting Japan firmly on the backfoot
      How would this impact on TV money and attendances?

      The Polynesian nations bring no direct TV money, however they do make the event more exciting.

      Further world rugby has to look to take say 5-10% of the gate from Twickenham as a sanctioning fee and use this to pay players directly. The money should not necessarily go to the governing bodies of Tonga etc as bluntly they haven’t always managed it well..

      • Roar Guru

        November 25th 2017 @ 9:34am
        PeterK said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Why restrict it to Aust and NZ?

        PI players should be able to play for 1 t1 nation and their origin country with a 12 month break inbetween.

        So they could go back to the original t1 country if they wanted. This would mean more would play for their PI country since it doesn’t close the door on earning big money if needed for the t1 country.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 10:10am
          mzilikazi said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

          “Why restrict it to Aust and NZ?” I gave the wrong impression…no indeed, any nation absolutly.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 11:41am
          nugget said | November 25th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          Why a twelve month break in between? I like the current Rugby League approach. Look what it’s done for the RL World Cup. If they’re not picked in the squad for their tier1 country, let them be available to play for their country of origin. Simple.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 12:06pm
            Gurudoright said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

            “Look what it has done for the RL World Cup “

            I know, it does make it look like a farce.

          • Roar Guru

            November 25th 2017 @ 1:05pm
            PeterK said | November 25th 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

            a major reason is they have inside knowledge of plays, players carrying niggling injuries, and so on.

          • Roar Rookie

            November 25th 2017 @ 1:23pm
            Die hard said | November 25th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

            But the RL world cup is a bit of a joke for that very reason

            • November 25th 2017 @ 1:40pm
              Dave_S said | November 25th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

              What joke? There have been some hugely entertaining games and boilovers in league World Cup. Tonga bearing NZ was a cracker.

              In the meantime, rugby t1 nations are qualifying and capping PI players as fast as they can and pretending their superior standing is all their own good work.

              • November 25th 2017 @ 1:56pm
                In brief said | November 25th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

                The term joke is not based on the quality of the matches but on the fact the teams don’t represent the playing culture of the country they represent.

                If there is a thriving player base and local players are drawn to foreign professional leagues than it makes sense to have flexibility.

                The issue occurs when the players represent a country which has no local tradition of playing the game. What exactly are they representing?

              • November 25th 2017 @ 3:00pm
                Gurudoright said | November 25th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

                What joke?
                22,000 attendance in a 52,000 seat stadium, for a World Cup semifinal with the host nation playing. That alone indicates people are voting with their feet

              • November 25th 2017 @ 8:25pm
                Jacko said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:25pm | ! Report

                NZ a got beaten by NZ b

        • November 26th 2017 @ 11:19am
          sheek said | November 26th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

          Peter K,

          I don’t understand this reasoning. Playing for your country is not like playing for your club.

          You can move around as many clubs in your career as you want.

          But each person has only one country, one commitment, in their life at any one time.

          Sure, people move around for all sorts of reasons. But those reasons ought to be about seeking a better, & safer life, somewhere else.

          Not changing countries purely for economic opportunism.

          I guess that’s why we will always have wars. Sooner or later, people have to decide where they stand, & what they’re willing to fight & die for.

          In sport & business we might be able to treat national boundaries with impunity. But in war, we’re forced to decide.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:08am
        mzilikazi said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        “bluntly they haven’t always managed it well.” Yes, Londoner, a good point that I had not considered….should have done as I once lived in Zimbabwe !!

        • November 25th 2017 @ 7:59pm
          Londoner said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:59pm | ! Report

          Yeah sadly some poorer nations have a bad habit of mis spending money allocated for sport amongst other things.

          Zimbabwe actually should have a very good union team based on heritage and who was born there. Hopefully one day it will.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 12:09pm
        Aidoc said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        That would make no difference as already NZL supplies more than 50% of the players in the Tongan and Samoan teams. At every RWC more Kiwis have played against the All Blacks than for them.
        Charging European clubs and unions transfer fees might be a solution.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:14am
        rebel said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Something reeks of arrogance.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 4:02pm
        richard said | November 25th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

        “Take the vast number of islanders out of NZ’s super teams and they would be significantly weakened”….

        You are aware those “islanders’ are in the main kiwis born and bred,don’t you? I don’t know why people come out with this drivel.

        • Roar Rookie

          November 27th 2017 @ 5:25pm
          piru said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

          Because it’s easy, and the All Blacks are the bad guys – poor rugby commentary 101

          • November 28th 2017 @ 6:50am
            richard said | November 28th 2017 @ 6:50am | ! Report

            Yes.I know.It’s the old adage ” tell a lie often enough,and people will start to believe it ‘ – Josef Goebbels.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 7:52am
      Gurudoright said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      It would help if the Samoan Rugby Union was able to manage its finances better. World Rugby gives them £1.5million annually. As nice as it was to host the All Blacks a couple of years back, it financially ruined the SRU. Short term gain for long term pain.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Bakkies said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        The Government has to get out of running the game in Samoa there is enough petty politics in Rugby without having the waters further positioned by career politicians who use it as their personal fiefdom.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 6:11pm
        Council said | November 25th 2017 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

        NZR underwrote that game and paid for it.

        The Samoan RU is bankrupt because of corruption and inability to manage income.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 7:49pm
        AssumedTooMuch said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

        “It would help if the Samoan Rugby Union was able to manage its finances better.”

        Like Australian Rugby Union Organisations???

        Like some state Rugby Organisations, like some Supe Rugby Clubs, like even the ARU?

    • Roar Guru

      November 25th 2017 @ 8:35am
      Machooka said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Good read Doc… important read. Many thanks.

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