the still unequal fight of the Pacific players

Daniel Leo made a wish in Lourdes (Hautes-Pyrénées) at the end of May: "I would like to see one of those Pacific nations win the World Cup one day. I think we have the players for that. " The former rugby player did not talk about New Zealand and Australia, already triple and double champion. But rather Tonga, Fiji, and of course Samoa, country where he was captain of the national team.

Three nations less populated, less rich, and already eliminated from this World Cup 2019 before the end of the first round. Final matches: Samoa-Ireland, Saturday 12 October, then Tonga-USA, the next day. For the fulfillment of the wish, it will be necessary to return. Their best performance starts to recover: quarterfinals for Fijians (1987 and 2007) and Samoans (1991 and 1995).

Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Five months ago, the former player of Bordeaux-Bègles and Perpignan organized a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Lourdes. Then a game on the Pyrenean pitch Antoine Béguère stadium, former stronghold of national rugby. An initiative within the framework of its association, Pacific Rugby Players Welfare. Already three years that this structure tries to support the Samoans, Tonguiens and Fijians left to play in Europe, sometimes in precarious conditions.

Fijian winger Josua Tuisova, October 9, 2019 in Oita.
Fijian winger Josua Tuisova, October 9, 2019 in Oita. Gabriel Bouys / AFP

Its website estimates their number at least 600, spread throughout Europe. From the French or English first division to the Federal 3 (the fifth echelon in France). Through the championships of "Romania, Scotland, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Italy", lists the young pensioner, 37 years old and still sharp, sitting on the sideline.

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Above all a question of economic resources, according to him: "In Samoa, the federation does not have enough money to start a professional competition. Every year we lose our best young players who go to schools in New Zealand. "

This exodus also has indirect competition: strengthen other national selections. And this is how France imposed a nothing on Tonga (23-21), October 6 in Kumamoto, thanks to two tests of Virimi Vakatawa and Alivereti Raka: two naturalized players of Fijian origin , one playing for the club of Racing, the other for that of Clermont.

Leo would have an idea: "Relax the rules so that at the end of their career, players can play for a second national team. We would need some to come from their experience. " An example: the case of Charles Piutau, born in New Zealand to Tongan parents. The back has played for the All Blacks between 2013 and 2015. "He has not played for them for four years. But he will not be able to play for Tonga for the rest of his life. " A national team whose brother, Siale, is today the captain.

Conversely, the international federation intends to toughen the regulation. From 31 December 2020, a player must have spent five consecutive years (instead of three) in the country for which he intends to play.

Samoan hooker Seilala Lam, October 11, 2019 in Fukuoka.
Samoan hooker Seilala Lam, October 11, 2019 in Fukuoka. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Largely insufficient to settle the question, in the eyes of Daniel Leo, who calls especially to another redistribution of wealth: "The big issue would be to have more games in the Pacific and to share more money. " Today, only the host country benefits from organized matches. But when Tonguans, Samoans or Fijians face one of the best nations in the world, it is usually outside. Not at home. "If France or England came to Samoa, the Samoans would receive money. Or it would be necessary for the traveling team to receive 20% of the revenue, for example … "

"Our islands are small, we do not have a lot of money, so we do not have a strong voice. Daniel Leo, former captain of Samoa

In fact, the English have already received Samoa five times, never the other way around. The XV of France, he played three times at home. And once outside, in June 1999, during a preparatory tour for the World Cup.

At one point, Daniel Leo mentioned a possible boycott of the 2019 World Cup by the players. A threat made in March in an interview at L'Equipe, to protest the project – now withdrawn – from the World League. A project he blamed for sidelining the nations of the Pacific, and that World Rugby intended to put in place to fill a little more the calendar.

"Participation would be based on merit based on rank at a given time. There is no question of excluding the Pacific Islands "Australian Brett Gosper, managing director of World Rugby, told Agence France-Presse.

Rather than interacting with Daniel Leo, the leader prefers to dialogue with another structure, which the international federation recognizes, "Pacific Rugby Players".

Better representativeness

Because he still has a lot to say, Daniel Leo adds: "Our islands are small, we do not have a lot of money, so we do not have a strong voice. We have no influence. It is often about the values ​​of rugby, equality, respect, but sometimes I do not see them. "

In summer 2018, Pacific Welfare launched a campaign on social networks, with the support of players. "Seats at the table" called for greater representativeness at the "council", the World Rugby government. A partial success. The international federation has finally accepted one representative for Fiji and another for Samoa, but not yet for Tonga, where France alone has three.


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