Samoa rugby fans
Manu Samoa’s place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup may be in further doubt – thanks to more bungling from the powers that be.
The Samoans were set to play off against either Spain or Portugal in June for a place at next year’s tournament in Japan.
But they might not have their best players available, now that World Rugby has launched an investigation into reports of Belgium and Romania fielding ineligible players in earlier RWC qualifying rounds.
And unlike the situation with Oceania neighbours Tahiti, who were disqualified after also fielding an ineligible player against the Cook Islands in March, it seems the Belgians and Romanians might get another chance to qualify.
If replays of the affected matches are allowed, it’ll delay the final qualifier involving Samoa from June until July-August, when some of their best players will be unavailable, due to pre-season commitments with their European clubs.
Fiji star Nemani Nadolo has fired up on Twitter about the saga.
“What a JOKE!!” the former Crusaders wing wrote. “This just makes it messy for the Manu Samoa players and their pro clubs overseas! July/August is an important time for prepping with the new season… It’s tough as it is trying to convince our clubs to go play for our countries!”
Many top Samoans play for the wealthy European clubs in leagues such as France’s Top 14 and those clubs don’t have to release their players outside the June test window.
Pacific Rugby Players chief executive Aayden Clarke calls the situation “definitely not ideal” and points out that the vetting process around player eligibility should have been sorted out before kickoff.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation if all the ‘i’s had been dotted and the ‘t’s crossed, but it’s just about dealing with that now,” Clarke told Newshub.
“From a players’ perspective, the uncertainty of when they’ll be playing and so forth is definitely not ideal.”
There was already controversy around Belgium’s last match against Spain in March, won 18-10 by the Belgians, but refereed by a Romanian.
That result had initially sent Romania through to the next round.
The Spaniards had earlier officially questioned the official’s appointment over possible bias, but were ignored by governing body Rugby Europe, whose president, Octavian Morariu, is also Romanian.
But after news emerged of the latest eligibility debacle, the governing body convened an emergency committee to investigate, before determining what steps to take next.
The fresh controversy surrounds a Tongan-born centre who played for Romania and a French-born hooker who played for Belgium.
Sione Faka’osilea qualified for Romania through residency, but played one World Series tournament for Tonga’s national sevens team back in 2013, ruling him ineligible for his adopted country.
Victor Paquet represented France up to under-19 level and reportedly claimed a Belgian great grandmother, but only the birth nation of a grandparent or parent provides that eligibility under World Rugby regulations.
Clarke expects World Rugby’s hearing to conclude this week and says the Samoans will just play the cards that they’ve been dealt.
But the eligibility saga is again set to adversely impact on the poorer Pacific Island nations, rather than more populous and wealthier European countries.