Eligibility rule change ‘almost impossible’
A Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) official says the eligibility rule for World Rugby is going to be hard to change.
As a matter of fact, it’s probably almost impossible, though it would be welcomed for the greater benefit of the game.
Ramsey Tomokino is the Samoa Team Operations Officer for S.R.U. and he says the latest outpour of top Pacific Island rugby players with the wish to play for their Pacific country of descent, is an all important call for consideration.
However, Tomokino says shaking the current eligibility rule is near mission impossible for not just S.R.U., but for everyone affected by the eligibility rules.
“We’ve had New Zealand lobby for it also very recently, and if they couldn’t affect change for the Pacific Islands as Rugby’s powerhouse, then what chance,” he said.
“Eventually whatever changes that will be made, someone isn’t going to agree with it.”
Tomokino recalled though a time in the 90’s when the likes of Frank Bunce, Alama Ieremia, Ofisa Tonu’u, Andrew Blowers, Dylan Mika, and Michael Jones were able to switch without backlash or an eligibility rule getting in the way.
“At the time, there were (so many) Samoan players that were getting picked by the All Blacks because of their talent, invariably they plied their trade in New Zealand and it was termed ‘player poaching’,” said Tomokino.
“There was no eligibility rule then for the earlier switches, the only rule being in effect brought in was the three-year stand down served by Dylan Mika before the one country rule took effect, but it was because of calls from within the rugby fraternity as well as Pacific Islands voices saying this was wrong that led to the establishment of the eligibility rules, to avoid player drain from already under resourced player depth in the pacific,” he added.
Since Rugby became professional, and eligibility rules established to govern player movement, the platform has changed for rugby.
Tomokino says no one at the time of the 80’s and 90’s could envision the rules to turn around in favor of the Pacific Islands with the number of successful Pacific Island athletes growing in the world and that one test All Blacks or Wallabies, being prohibited from switching allegiance to the Pacific Islands.
“The one that hurts us a lot is the players lost to New Zealand and Australia through 7’s representation, which needs to be looked at and treated as a different game. Tala Gray who is a star No.8 captured by Australia through the 7s just a year out of school, could be a much needed asset to Manu Samoa or former Blues player Lolagi Visinia,” he said.
“We never envisioned it would get to this stage, once upon a time you were an All Black for a long time, now you can be one for a matter of minutes and be captured for life, and it’s now somehow turned around with the change in the playing field in rugby,” he said.
What would be ideal to see is one switch only for any player, if New Zealand wanted a player from one of the Pacific Island teams, then so be it, however it would be change only allowed and they couldn’t go back.
Recently, former All Blacks center Ma’aNonu and several other Samoan stars have expressed their interest to play for Samoa after the remarkable performance of Tonga in the Rugby League World Cup.
Unfortunately, the way to do that is rather lengthy.
“It used to be that you take a break from international test rugby for 18 months and then you can enter into sevens in an Olympic qualifying World Series year. That’s when you can switch,” said Tomokino.
“Now they’ve extended that to three years and then enter through sevens in an Olympic qualifying year, which may be extended to five years after the next Olympics” he added.
He says this is rather unfair for Pacific Island rugby stars that have only strut the black jersey once or twice in their career and consideration has to be given by sevens coach’s to include a prop or hook at sevens is unlikely.
Meanwhile, the call for a shakeup of the rules would cause a lot of conversations from around the rugby world.
For now, S.R.U. and the list of Pacific Island descents could only hope for a change.