With the rugby world still reeling from the reports that emerged yesterday of a 12-team ringfenced ‘World League’, the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) organisation have released a strong statement.
The PRPW is a London-based group headed by former Manu Samoa international and captain Dan Leo, set up with the intent of looking after the welfare of Pacific Island players in European rugby, and with the reports yesterday suggesting that Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would all be on the outside of this new 12-team competition, the organisation has been quick to act.
The release states that the PRPW are discussing and debating a motion made by senior Test-playing representatives that all members make themselves unavailable for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Here is what Leo had to say.
“This is 1995 and the creation of SANZAR all over again.
“This is exactly what happened when they created Super Rugby and all of the subsequent years of expansion. Their watchword was – let’s take their players but whatever happens, keep the islands out.
“This will be Pacific Rugby Disaster 2.0.
Leo also states that is now “abundantly clear that World Rugby has failed the genuine rugby fan” and that has called upon the three Pacific national unions to break out of their position of silence and submission and to support their players.
After discussions with Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) Chairman Hale T-Pole , Leo says the world’s two major Pacific Players Associations have joined voices to fend off this would-be threat to the survival of Pacific Island rugby.
“PRPW strongly support the position of IRP and PRP in condemning this proposal made by World Rugby, and any other format that restricts the Pacific Island’s ability to advance as rugby nations.
“So now is the time for the voice of Pacific rugby to be heard through our players, God’s gift to our islands, and in a way that might head off this calamity.
“We invite our National unions to join this collective effort to repel this proposal, before it is too late.”
All three of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have qualified for the RWC in Japan later this year, with Fiji, currently sitting ninth in the world rankings, a particularly potent threat to qualify from the pool stage and make it to the knockout rounds. To see that group of players denied that opportunity would be one that rugby fans of all allegiances would mourn.
It is certainly a strong reaction from the PRPW and PRP and one which should be heavily debated in the coming weeks before anything is even considered being put into action.
Whilst the players are only likely to miss out on relatively insignificant international payments, in contrast to their regular earnings in professional club rugby, by boycotting the RWC, the consequences could be much more impactful for the staff working with those teams and at those unions. From the coaches and physios to the people working in administration and support roles, a boycott of rugby’s premier international competition could prove a threat to their jobs.
It also denies Pacific Island players an opportunity to showcase their talents on the largest stage of all, something which has previously won many a player from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga a lucrative club contract in the northern hemisphere.
The reaction is, of course, understandable, as the Islands had been looking at a rosier future after the upcoming tournament in Japan.
Both England and France had committed to post-RWC tours of the Islands. Then news began to emanate of an annual global competition which, when first reported, was set to include promotion and relegation, something which would allow the Islands to regularly compete against the best teams in the world if they could get themselves into that top tier. To have had both of those prospects snatched away is understandably going to provoke a reaction.
It is worth stressing at this point that there has been nothing official from World Rugby yet. The organisation did release a statement following the report that emerged in New Zealand on Thursday, but it did not confirm or deny any of the specific details put forward in the report, whilst World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot has taken to Twitter to stress he is keen for two 12-tier competitions, with promotion and relegation in place between the two.
That should be taken into account when the PRPW and PRP meet to discuss a potential boycott and although there is very rarely smoke without fire, the exact details of what World Rugby is proposing are not yet known. It should be a time for cool heads and reasoned thought, despite the fact that the thought of excluding the Pacific Islands has tugged at the heartstrings in every rugby fan across the globe, with plenty of collateral damage also likely with any action as significant as a boycott.
Until all the facts are known, discretion may be the better part of valour. If something solid emerges to indicate this report is true, then Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would likely have the entire rugby community behind them, should they opt to take more drastic action at the RWC later this year.