“Someone at the IRB [now known as World Rugby] has got to make a serious investment in those Pacific Island countries. If they do that, I think a Samoan team capable of winning the World Cup is a definite possibility. Otherwise, their great players are always going to go and qualify for other countries. Certainly New Zealand has taken advantage of that.”
Sir Clive Woodward, writing in his autobiography after England were run close by Samoa in a thrilling World Cup match in 2003. It seems the former are now taking advantage of that too, as Denny Solomona becomes yet another Pacific Islander to feature for England due to the residency rule.
Less than two months ago the RFU Chief Executive said that in an ideal world, a five-year residency rule was “absolutely the route to go down”. In fact, there was even talk of the RFU imposing their own rule if the IRB didn’t extend it to five years.
When playing Rugby League for Castleford, Solomona himself was quoted as saying “my heart’s not here, it’s not for England. I play in Super League but my heart is for New Zealand and Samoa and that’s who I’ll be representing if they ask. I’d love to represent Samoa…it would mean a lot to do that, but it would be good if New Zealand came calling. I would be open to any option.”
Solomona was born and raised in New Zealand, and it’s hardly like the All Blacks need any more players, however given the quote above it’s clear Samoa were always going to be his second option if New Zealand did not come calling.
However, he’s now “100% committed” to playing for England. The sad fact is that he could earn more money in two England appearances than 100 for Samoa and this, in the author’s opinion, is why he has had a change of heart. One cannot see any other logical explanation.
Whilst the RFU are going to be lobbying to extend the residency rule to five years at May’s World Rugby council, they are picking a player that would not be available if the rule came into existence.
There are obvious arguments about fairness, and as a fan I’m all for English success. However, with the strength in depth available there is just no need for players like Semesa Rokoduguni and Nathan Hughes to represent the Red Rose. With our options in both positions in rude health, these players will be substitutes with minor roles, when in truth they could have been legends for their native countries.
Denny Solomona may have potential now, but he could well make five appearances for England and never play for the national side again, failing to get past Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, and Elliot Daly.
Lesley Vainikolo played on just five occasions, while he could have played dozens more for Tonga. Rokoduguni has played just twice, a huge loss to Fiji, while Nathan Hughes will undoubtedly remain a mere backup to Billy Vunipola.
With Italy beating South Africa, Japan taking on top nations and Ireland ending their New Zealand hoodoo, the gaps in rugby are closing, further underlining the injustice being dealt on the Pacific Islanders. The rugby world needs to work together to resolve this worsening issue, be it through increased funding, reformed residency rules, or World Rugby representatives speaking out.
England have a significantly bigger player pool than most, and pay a whopping £10,000 more per match than any other country in the world, motivating players to drop national allegiances in favour of financial attraction. The RFU, the richest rugby union in the world, provided Fiji with a measly 0.75% of the money made from the fixture they shared in Autumn.
They may not be breaking any rules, but England have a responsibility to advance the game. They should be putting the case forward to provide more funding to the Pacific Island Unions, making an example by giving them half the match day fee and not hand picking their players.
England earn their money. They have an amazing league and development system and consistently sell out Twickenham despite the absurdly high ticket prices. However, that does not bestow upon them the right to effectively buy players.
This is not club rugby, this is about the best rugby players representing their nation.
It is a travesty that the Pacific Islands’ potential, which came to the fore when Western Samoa beat Wales in 1991, is still yet to be fully explored over 25 years on.
If this is the trend that international rugby is going to follow, then they’ve certainly lost this fan.