WELLINGTON – Fiji, Samoa and Tonga will be thrust into the spotlight this weekend during the Pasifika Challenge doubleheader in Auckland, but age-old problems continue to haunt them ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
Samoa will play an invitational side comprised of players from New Zealand’s amateur “Heartland” provincial competition before Fiji and Tonga follow them onto Eden Park on Saturday.
It will be Fiji’s last warm-up match ahead of the World Cup, although Tonga will face the All Blacks in Hamilton on Sept. 7, while Samoa plays the Wallabies in Sydney on the same day.
Problems with player availability, funding and inequity of resources, however, have reared their ugly head again with Samoa and Tonga unable to select players for the World Cup due to their clubs exerting pressure on them.
Samoa coach Steve Jackson told TVNZ earlier this month that one player had arrived in camp ahead of this year’s Pacific Nations Cup and then left within two hours after being offered a club contract.
“I understand that,” Jackson told TVNZ. “I support every decision an individual makes, because he has to do what is best for himself and his family.”
Pacific Rugby Players union chief executive Aayden Clarke, however, said he had heard of clubs placing players under almost daily pressure to not play at the World Cup, which was not the best preparation for them ahead of the global showpiece.
“I’m saying to World Rugby, ‘Do the players really need to go through the duress to get to the World Cup?’ ” Clarke said. “It’s a shocker.”
All three Pacific nations have continued to struggle financially even after disbursements from World Rugby for development programs and World Cup preparations.
Local media in Samoa organized a fundraising drive to help pay for the team’s training camps, where the players are paid about NZ$100 (about $64) a day.
“I think our entire weekly salary is the same as what one England player gets,” Jackson said. “They don’t come here to play for money. They play for the jersey. As a coach I can’t coach that. I can’t coach that hunger.”
The local community’s support during the fundraising drive was not lost on the players.
“That’s how much rugby means to the people of Samoa,” loose forward Jack Lam told TVNZ.