Samoa looks to World Rugby to boost chances on world stage

While the primary action at Rugby World Cup 2019 takes place on the pitch, the work done off it is also vital as the World Rugby Council gathers to decide the game’s future.

The Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) will sit at their second Council meeting in Japan having been granted a seat at the table last year, and S.R.U. Chief Executive Officer Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i said those meetings are crucial.

“These are the decision makers of the game, and it’s so important for us to be there, looking them in the eye and telling them; this is what’s happening with us, this is what we face,” he said.

“Overall, the Tier 2 and 3 unions haven’t quite measured up to the expectations in terms of competitiveness [at Rugby World Cup 2019].”

Hosts Japan were the only Tier 2 nation to make it out of the tournament’s pool stage, and the only other upset result was a win for Uruguay over Fiji.

“The game is growing, but it’s not growing to the extent that it’s unpredictable,” Faleomavaega said.

“Questions are being asked whether it’s an internal thing, or whether we’re not getting the opportunity to play more competitions at that level.”

While S.R.U. are looking inwards for ways to improve on the Manu Samoa’s “disappointing result” at the World Cup, Faleomavaega said there are things the sport’s governing body can do to help as well:

“Hopefully at Council level, World Rugby will look sympathetically and re-look at the eligibility rules again, especially for Tier 2 nations like us.”

“So we can get some more support in certain positions where we’re lacking, to strengthen our teams.”

Under the current regulations, a former-All Black like Steven Luatua or Lima Sopoaga who would otherwise be eligible to play for the Manu, cannot choose to do so because of his caps for New Zealand, despite it being highly unlikely they will ever play for the All Blacks again.

The other major disparity between Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries is the amount of tests their national teams play.

Between the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups, the All Blacks had 47 test matches, while the Manu Samoa had just 23.

In 2020, the Manu Samoa will return to their normal non-World Cup year schedule, with the Pacific Nations Cup in July and August and a Northern Hemisphere tour in November.

Faleomavaegea said what exactly that calendar could look like is under discussion:

“Based on the current rankings, we’re behind Fiji and Tonga so we’ll possibly be getting one Tier One and two Tier 2s.”

While Japan’s surprise run at the World Cup that has seen them jump to eighth in the world rankings is an inspiration to other Tier 2 nations like Samoa, Faleomavaega said their environment is very different.

“I’ve been following Japan for the last four years - they have spent an awful lot of money in touring and playing competitions everywhere,” he said.

“While they were Tier 2 in terms of ranking and performance-wise, they’re not Tier 2 when it comes to the resources.”

The S.R.U. CEO said he is thrilled for them though, and for what it means for rugby’s profile in Asia:

“And I’m sure the Chinese are sitting there thinking, that’s us!”

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