WELLINGTON – The treatment of rugby’s Pacific nations by Northern Hemisphere powerhouses borders on colonialism, New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey said Tuesday.
Commenting on the failure of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to make the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for the third straight tournament, Impey said the Pacific islands were being denied access to some of their best players.
“There should be eligibility rules which allow players who’ve played for Tier 1 countries, such as the All Blacks, to go back after say a year and play for their countries of origin,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“Think how much stronger Tonga would have been had Charles Piutau been in this side, Samoa also with the likes of Steven Luatua… it would have made a huge, huge difference.”
Impey said European clubs compounded the problem by pressuring Pacific players not to represent their countries.
He said New Zealand and Australia had pushed for change but been blocked by Northern Hemisphere nations.
“You can point the finger straight at the likes of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England,” he said.
You look at them, you look at their teams and what they have done in terms of rules that suit themselves.
“I’m very tempted — I probably won’t go quite this far — but I’m very tempted to say it’s virtually colonialism.”
Impey’s remarks come after NZR chief executive Steve Tew criticized the Northern Hemisphere nations last month for rejecting a proposed Nations Championship.
The planned blueprint would have included promotion-relegation between two divisions, giving Tier 2 nations such as the Pacific islands a pathway to more elite competition.
As it stands, Pacific Rugby Players Welfare estimates about 20 percent of all professional players come from islander backgrounds.
The Pacific nations’ geographical isolation, lack of financial resources and poor governance tempt players to move to rich clubs abroad.
Impey’s vehement comments are sure to raise eyebrows as New Zealand has not been immune from criticism about its treatment of Pacific players.
Many of its best-known players have been lured to New Zealand as teenagers, including wing sensation Sevu Reece, who Fiji hoped to field at this year’s tournament before the All Blacks handed him a debut test cap in July.
New Zealand has also failed to back a Pacific team in Super Rugby because the finances don’t stack up, and the All Blacks have only played one test in the islands — in Samoa in 2015 — after a coming under pressure from a campaign by high-profile fans.
“Absolutely the Pacific nations need support,” Kiwi rugby commentator Scott Stevenson said.
“But please. One test match in Apia and a consistent refusal to expand pro rugby to the islands does not provide a moral high ground.”