When Fiji take on England they will be without some of their best players.
Earlier this week we were shocked to learn that Pacific Islanders now make up 18% of the game’s professional players. Although many islanders find themselves playing with lower league clubs in England and France, an increasing number are lining out for some of Europe’s elite sides.
As a result, due to World Rugby’s lax residency rules, many players end up representing nations other than that of their birth. This is clearly frustrating for Fijian rugby officials, who can only look on as some of the island nation’s most talented players will forever be unavailable.
The problem has worsened in recent years, with Top 14 side Brive a particular offender after establishing an academy on the island.
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Of course rugby gives Fijian players a chance to escape poverty, but as the suicide of Sireli Temo demonstrated last week, the pressure some of these young men are under is unimaginable. Writing in The Guardian, Robert Kitson detailed how some players are supporting entire villages while playing abroad.
Such a situation is unsustainable, and World Rugby need to put an end to unscrupulous agents taking advantage of Fijian youngsters.
1. Waisake Naholo (New Zealand)
Although Waisake Naholo may have broken his leg during his All Black debut against Argentina during the 2015 Rugby Championship, the winger was so highly thought of that Steve Hansen selected him in New Zealand’s World Cup winning squad.
Not only did his inclusion come as a shock due to the nature of his injury, but the inexperienced Naholo also managed to jump ahead of Corey Jane and Israel Dagg in Hansen’s pecking order.
Like all Fijian wingers, Naholo is extremely powerful and would add a great deal to his native country.
2. Nathan Hughes (England)
In the lead up to England’s clash with Fiji, Nathan Hughes set tongues wagging when he admitted that money was a motivating factor in his decision to play for England.
While some were quick to label the Wasps number eight as a mercenary, Hughes contextualised his decision by bluntly stating that he plays rugby “to support my family and put shelter over their heads”.
Given that England’s players recently signed an agreement rewarding them with a match fee of £22,000, it is little wonder why Hughes would chose to play for his adopted nation and put his family first.
Nevertheless, a player of his stature and ability will be missed by Fiji.
3. Tevita Kuridrani (Australia)
Traditionally the Wallabies have never been short on outside backs. However in recent seasons they have begun to turn to player like Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi.
Rugby Union isn’t the only culprit in this regard, with Fijians making up 35% of players competing in Australia’s National Rugby League.
Although Kuridrani isn’t one of them, he has nonetheless become a mainstay in the Australian side in recent season, using his power to smash over the gainline and unleash the Wallabies potent back three.
4. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
At one tine in their history, the French were known for their flair and tricky wingers who could dance their way past any defender. However in recent years the Top 14 has become dominated by Fijian widemen, with Virimi Vakatawa the most highly publicised.
The winger made his name in Sevens before moving over to the 15 aside game last season. Although he looked raw during the Six Nations, Vakatawa knew where the line was and how to beat defenders.
Another player who the Fijians would love to get their hands in either form of the game.
5. Semesa Rokoduguni (England)
Semesa Rokoduguni’s path to international rugby has been a strange one. Like many of his countrymen, the big winger joined the British Army.
It was while he was a serving soldier that he joined Lytchett Minster RFC in 2008, before representing the army in a number of inter-service competitions. However, such was his impact, Bath moved for the winger in 2012, before Rokoduguni made his international debut in 2014.
This ruled him out of contention of every playing for Fiji, and he has had to wait until this Autumn before getting the opportunity to earn his second cap.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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