MY SAY : Back To What Rugby Drawing Board?

About the author:

Mataeliga Pio Sioa, Newsline Samoa newspaper editor. A veteran journalist in broadcast and print media.

  • World Cup 2019 did not fare well for island rugby, now it's back to the drawing board
    World Cup 2019 did not fare well for island rugby, now it's back to the drawing board

The odds of a Manu Samoa win over Ireland are not a safe bet.  Lets just keep it simple like that.

If we do upset the Irish we are still not going to the quarterfinals – even with a bonus point win.

So for us this week it is ‘sayonara’ Japan and World Cup 2019.  Should we say back to the drawing board?  Not quite.

We know already what is there.  Quite frankly everyone in the world of rugby knows it too.

Bottom line! No money. 

They have been saying that for a while now, not just about Samoa but our island rugby neighbourhood with Tonga and Fiji.

We are in fact at the point now where it is already grating on the nerves like that annoying scratched record.

Our island rugby is brimming with natural talents. 

We see them everywhere earning a living out of professional contracts playing for the rich rugby unions who can afford them.

We bring them in now and then for short rugby tours with their respective national teams or for the World Rugby Cup.

When it is done they fly out again to New Zealand, Australia, Japan or Europe to earn a living for themselves, families and other loved ones.

That is what is sitting on our drawing board. It has been sitting there year in and year out. 

Our rugby unions are not getting any richer. The players drain to professional contracts continue.

Richer rugby unions like Japan and the US are already overtaking our island rugby with their players development.

Newcomers like Canada, Uruguay, Georgia, Italy to name a few, are not too far behind.

By the next World Cup, they would probably be on par or slightly ahead.

While these new nations grow their rugby, our island rugby regressed. We have lost our winning edge. 

Professional rugby has killed it.

Rugby visionaries like the late La’auli Alan Grey was one who predicted this demise when rugby first went professional.

“It’s going to kill amateur rugby,” he said.

Rugby is still being played as an amateur sport in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, but that is not what he meant.

He was talking about the loss of the fiery passion and patriotism in the players.  They are still there but it is like a 6-cylinder engine firing on only four.

The other two did not misfire. They are deliberately held in reserve for professional duties.

Players are not to blame.  Professional rugby is their bread and butter.

Fear of injuries will always lurk in the background while on national duties for the Manu Samoa, Ikale Tahi or the Flying Fijians.

Island unions will not fork out for injured players. Fork out with what?

Professional contracts do not cover player injuries when turning out for their home countries.

What La’auli and the others warned about is the passion that made players like former Manu Samoa Keneti Sio, now Minister of Sports, Loau, offer to rip his heart out for the team.

When a raw Manu Samoa appeared on the world cup scene for the first time in 1991, they shocked everyone with their love of running rugby and hard tackles.

One of our Manu Samoa legend, Brian Lima, was even given the nickname ‘Chiropractor’ for his fearsome tackles.

For the players back then it was a ‘do or die’ mission when they don the blue and white colours of the Manu Samoa.

It was the abandoned, reckless disregard for safety that made amateur rugby not just fiercely competitive but overloaded with excitement and drama.  

How often have we seen the Apia Park explode into all out brawls on and off the field with fans and players having a go at each other?  Village rugby was even worse.

Club loyalties that transitioned into national devotion is what amateur rugby was all about.  

Rugby fans have not changed their hero-worshipping, it is the players who have been tamed by the professional code.

How should we fix that? Is it fixable? Yes. If we have the money.

Look at the New Zealand All Blacks!  They can afford to keep their players throughout their prime.

Anytime a player wears the black jersey, it is guaranteed all 6-cylinders are revving hot. None held in reserve.

Passion and patriotism are at the max. At the same time too, the competition for their place in the team is so strong they cannot afford to slack off.

When it is finally time to move on, they do so knowing they have given the team everything.

There is still a few more years left in the tank, enough to take up a professional career in Europe or lately Japan.

Unlike our boys who are desperate for these contracts as their ‘ bread and butter’ to these All Blacks, it is rugby pension.

Why not?  As former All Blacks, they raise the recognition value of their new professional clubs.

Once you are pensioned off on an overseas professional contract, chances of returning to the All Blacks are slim to none.

Ma’a Nonu is a more recent example.

Are we in the islands capable of following the New Zealand lead?

The question is whether we can afford to afford to keep our players while in their prime until it is time to farm them out to professional contracts?

If we want to foot it with the big boys, this is how it is done.   Is that possible for our island rugby?

A few million World Rugby dollars for each rugby union scheduled over a period of years could do the trick.

If that is not going to happen then maybe we should try studying another drawing board.