In the same week the RFU announced England players could earn up to £300,000 a year from internationals, it was revealed Fiji’s top players would earn only £400 for appearing at Twickenham this Saturday, highlighting the gross inequalities that exist in the top two tiers of world rugby.
The home team will pocket £22,000 each, or fifty five times the amount each Fijian will earn. Although the RFU apparently offered £75,000 to the Fiji Rugby Union as a ‘goodwill gesture’ – and were under no obligation to hand over the cash – the FRU had originally hoped for £150,000 out of the £10 million the RFU will likely generate from the match.
It starts to become obvious why a small rugby nation like Fiji, and one so cash-strapped, is suffering an incredible talent drain. According to The Telegraph, 19% of the world’s professional rugby players are from the Pacific Islands.
In the same article, former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan highlighted how dangerous a position Fiji is in when so many of their best players are operating outside of the country.
“There are 165 Fijians playing in France alone. It is ridiculous. World Rugby are looking to change the residency law from three to five years, but I don’t think that will work because players will just go younger.”
World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot has been a vocal advocate of changing the controversial residency rules that have seen so many players switch allegiances from Tonga, Samoa and Fiji to European and Antipodean countries.
As Ryan says, expanding out the rules’ requirements to five years will have little, if any, impact. More urgent changes are needed, perhaps in the form of banning switches after the age of 18 and removing the ridiculous grandparents rule.
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Yet so much more must be done from both World Rugby and Fijian rugby itself to ensure the current chasm in financial clout between tier two and tier one nations does not end up as a grand canyon.
Ben Ryan’s plan to set-up a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji is certainly an interesting one, and with the £20 million figure that is being bandied about suggests the team would have enough backers to pay their players competitive wages to enter into a struggle with Europe’s top teams.
Any England fan should feel somewhat uncomfortable at the prospect of two Fijian born-and-bred players lining up to face their home country at Twickenham this weekend.
When asked if recently capped England number eight Nathan Hughes had swapped the chance to wear the white of Fiji for the white of England purely on financial reasons, the Wasps back rower gave a somewhat superficial response (via the BBC):
“I said to my wife: ‘If I play for Fiji I will be travelling back and forth. If I play for England I’m here and you will be here.’ It wasn’t the hardest decision.”
If players are choosing to represent a country based on logistical considerations alone then it is a somewhat sad indictment of the game as a whole!
Ultimately, however, Wasps pay Hughes excellent wages, English clubs look after their players and England came calling. Why spend half your season flying around the world for a pittance when you can spend most of your time in Europe earning a fortune in the short time you’re able to play as a professional rugby player?
But unless World Rugby and the tier one nations work closer together to support the less fortunate then nations like Fiji will end being nothing more than glorified training camps for future European, New Zealand and Australian stars.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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