THE LONG WALK TO ENTRY
NZ Rugby World|Issue 207, October - November 2020
AFTER BEING SNUBBED BY THE GAME’S ELITE FOR 25 YEARS, A PACIFIC ISLAND SIDE FINALLY LOOKS LIKE IT WILL BE GRANTED A PLACE IN SUPER RUGBY AND THE CONSEQUENCES COULD BE SIGNIFICANT.
GREGOR PAUL

Whether it was an oversight or a deliberate snub, the decision to not include a Pacific Island team when Super Rugby launched in 1996 is now universally accepted as a giant mistake.

The consequences of non-inclusion have been felt hard in the Island nations of Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. All three have spent the last 25 years close to insolvency, scraping, borrowing, and begging for cash just to pay for kit and accommodation.

All three have felt financial hardship in a way few other countries have. They have operated on next to nothing as they were left on the starting grid when the game went professional.

The curious thing is that all three Island nations had entered the race, were on the line with everyone else, and had every reason to believe they would hear the gun. Why wouldn't they as all three had been part of the amateur Super 10, which was the pre-cursor to the professional Super 12.

Super 10, which ran from 1993 to 1995, included the four top-ranked provincial teams from New Zealand, New South Wales, and Queensland, the three top-ranked South African provinces and the winner of the Pacific Nations Cup played between Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa as they were then.

The make-up worked. It made sense and fan interest was high. So when Samoa reached the quarter-final of the 1995 World Cup, they fully expected to be part of the negotiations to create a professional version of Super Rugby.

“Why wouldn't we be included?,” asks Samoa's coach from that time, the legendary All Black Bryan Williams. “We had had good results since 1991 and had made the quarter-finals at both the 1991 World Cup and 1995. We had also shown we could compete against the best New Zealand, Australian, and South African provinces.

“I was a strong advocate for inclusion and we expected to be included.”

It was the Springboks who knocked out the Samoans in 1995 and so conscious was the latter about not being seen to rock the establishment, they decided to not complain that some of their players were racially abused and bitten during the defeat.

It was a deliberate attempt to endear themselves to the elite, but it failed to register. Samoa and the other Island nations were never included in the Super Rugby discussions and Williams says he only became aware of this when the public announcement was made revealing the new competition and its US$555million broadcast deal.

“It was a real kick in the guts,” he says. “That's how we found out and I was personally wounded. Supposedly it was because they felt that the Samoan Rugby Union couldn't generate enough money to be included.”

Without a place in Super Rugby, be it through one composite team or three individual spots, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga sat on the sidelines and watched everyone else get rich.

And as the money poured into New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa as well as Europe, the Island nations could never catch up.

The whole system worked against the Islands – every year they didn't have a place in Super Rugby compounded their problems, not the least of which was that without regular exposure to Super Rugby, they couldn't justify a place in the Tri-Nations.

Their players weren't conditioned to the speed and intensity of Southern Hemisphere rugby and so they were deemed too high a risk to be involved in Sanzar's showpiece international event.

And of course, all the time they were locked out, they had no access to revenue, no access to test matches and therefore the gap between them and everyone else continued to grow.

The rich got richer and the Islands got poorer and making it worse was the obvious cynicism driving the decision to keep the Islands away from rugby's top table.

Many of the established nations, particularly the Celts, feared for their own position if the three island nations were given access to the financial support and regular football that they needed to fulfill their potential.

The respective talent pools of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji are much deeper than those of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The Celts effectively rely on their migrant heritage to populate their teams – all three constantly scouring the globe for Kiwis, Australians, and South Africans whose family line began in the North.

For much of the early professional period, the Celts were clinging to their place at the table and they were adamant they didn't want a tidal wave from the South Seas to sweep them into obscurity.

By bloc voting, those three nations were able to stop any legislative changes being made that would help the Pacific Islands.

The most notable were the continued attempts by New Zealand to sponsor a change in the eligibility laws which would enable players to stand down after a career with a Tier One nation and then become available for a Tier Two side.

It was a way to allow the many Pacific Island-qualified All Blacks and Wallabies to take their experience and skills to Fiji, Tonga, or Samoa after they were no longer wanted by their Tier One choice.

Each and every attempt, though, was voted down, leading New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew to say in 2009 after another failed attempt: “The optimists thought we might get it through. The reality is there is a group of northern unions that is very nervous about strengthening the island nations.”

Sanzar was arguably the greater villain in all this, though, as it was within their power to open the Super Rugby door but they never did.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NZ RUGBY WORLDView All

PACIFIC POWER HOUSE

FIJI HAVE NEVER QUITE BEEN ABLE TO FULFIL THEIR ENORMOUS POTENTIAL. BUT THEY MIGHT NOW FOLLOWING THE APPOINTMENT OF VERN COTTER AS HEAD COACH.

9 mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

THE PEOPLE'S CHAMPION

ON AND OFF THE FIELD, SPRINGBOKS WING CHESLIN KOLBE CONTINUES TO MAKE AN INSPIRATIONAL IMPACT.

10+ mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

DEFENCE FORCE ONE

THE BLUES WERE A RADICALLY DIFFERENT TEAM IN 2020 AND MUCH OF THAT WAS DUE TO THEIR VASTLY IMPROVED WORK ON DEFENCE.

9 mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

THE LONG WALK TO ENTRY

AFTER BEING SNUBBED BY THE GAME’S ELITE FOR 25 YEARS, A PACIFIC ISLAND SIDE FINALLY LOOKS LIKE IT WILL BE GRANTED A PLACE IN SUPER RUGBY AND THE CONSEQUENCES COULD BE SIGNIFICANT.

10+ mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

THE SEARCH FOR MOBY DICK

REPLACING THE WORLD CLASS JEROME KAINO IN THE ALL BLACKS NO 6 SHIRT HAS BEEN THE NEAR IMPOSSIBLE CHALLENGE. BUT MIGHT THE ANSWER HAVE PRESENTED ITSELF DURING SUPER RUGBY?

10 mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

IN 10se BATTLE

NEW ZEALAND CURRENTLY HAS THE TWO BEST FIRST-FIVES IN WORLD RUGBY VYING TO WEAR THE ALL BLACKS NO 10 SHIRT. IT’S A BATTLE THAT HAS CAPTURED THE PUBLIC IMAGINATION BUT IT MAY BE ONE THAT NEVER QUITE MATERIALISES.

10+ mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 207, October - November 2020

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY FACTORS OUTSIDE OF NEW ZEALAND'S CONTROL WHICH HAVE HAD A MAJOR INFLUENCE ON THE GAME IN THE LAST DECADE.

10+ mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 205, June - July 2020

THE MAN WHO CAN'T BE BROKEN

I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO KEEP ME DOWN…

8 mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 205, June - July 2020

THE RESISTANCE

THE ALL BLACKS HAVE ENCOUNTERED PLAYERS IN THE LAST DECADE WHO HAVE BEEN ABLE TO WIELD THEIR INFLUENCE IN THE MOST TELLING WAYS. WE LOOK AT THE FIVE MEN WHO HAVE TROUBLED THEM THE MOST SINCE 2010.

3 mins read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 205, June - July 2020

KENDRA COCKSEDGE WINS KEL TREMAIN TROPHY

There was, perhaps, a breakthrough moment of sorts when the Black Ferns were named team of the year at the New Zealand Rugby awards in 2017.

1 min read
NZ Rugby World
Issue 205, June - July 2020
RELATED STORIES

Boot Camp

Even if you log thousands of vertical feet at your local mountain beforehand, heli-skiing can wreck you after one day. Here’s how to beat the bonk.

3 mins read
Men's Journal
November - December 2020

Who's Afraid of Winter?

Two fair-weather enthusiasts tear down their fear of the fourth season.

4 mins read
Backpacker
November - December 2020

SOUTH SEAS TRIFECTA

In a land far, far away — from Porthole HQ, at least — lies the Down Under continent of Australia, flanked on the southeast by New Zealand and the petite island paradise of Fiji to the northeast. A marathon flight to these far-flung destinations may require diligent planning, but there is nothing more rewarding than scheduling an indulgent multi-segment cruise or two (or even three).

10 mins read
Porthole Cruise Magazine
August 2020

Slice of Heaven

Find your personal paradise in the islands of the South Pacific.

6 mins read
Global Traveler
June 2020

The Living Forest

We know our forests are special places. But for the Native Americans who have lived among them for centuries, they are more than that. Trees are family members that give, heal, provide, protect, and nurture. Trees are sacred. Listen to the trees.

10 mins read
Backpacker
May - June 2020

In the Groove

Find your smile in Fiji’s friendly paradise.

4 mins read
Global Traveler
April 2020

“At Bottom. Repeat. At Bottom.”

Multimillionaire Victor Vescovo committed himself to one of the world’s craziest remaining adventure quests: to reach the deepest points in every ocean, in a dangerous mission called the Five Deeps. What does it take to get there? A radically high-tech, $30 million Triton submersible, a team of crack engineers and scientists, and one very gonzo explorer.

10+ mins read
Outside Magazine
December 2019

I'd love to play for Tonga with my brother Charlie

Daniel Gallan talks to Bristol Bears star Siale Piutau about passion and punch-ups

6 mins read
The Rugby Paper
December 13, 2020

World Cup horror show too gruesome to witness

Brendan Gallagher delves into some of rugby’s most enduring images, their story and why they are still so impactful

4 mins read
The Rugby Paper
November 01, 2020

Oceania's 11

Coronavirus free remote Pacific islands of Oceania

1 min read
India Legal
October 12, 2020