Seilala Mapusua asks New Zealand Rugby to walk the talk with helping their Pacific brothers
Former Manu Samoa midfielder Seilala Mapusua and Pacific Rugby Players are asking New Zealand Rugby to rethink their quota on international players in Super Rugby squads.
Mapusua, who helped found the association supporting players from the Pacific islands, thinks New Zealand Rugby need to start walking the talk when it comes to calling out World Rugby and the Six Nations unions for not backing the global game.
“They talk in public about getting behind us but in terms of what they actually do, there’s a lot more New Zealand Rugby could actually be doing to help,” he said.
An obvious starting point is that international quota, which prevents Super Rugby teams from contracting any more than three players who are not eligible to play for the All Blacks.
Pacific Rugby Players want Samoan, Fijian and Tongan players to be exempt from that quota, so they can represent their nations without decreasing their chances of playing Super Rugby.
“We want to make our island teams players’ first choices, not their fallback from when they don’t make the All Blacks,” Mapusua said.
“Giving them that choice; if they want to strive to be an All Black, awesome, they’ll be well supported. And if they wanna play for the island teams, their spot’s not gonna be compromised or jeopardised.”
Mapusua said it’s time to look for help from “big brother” New Zealand, rather than asking for change at the global level:
“We’ve been banging our heads against the wall, trying to go to World Rugby and asking for changes to eligibility rules
“We’ve presented [New Zealand Rugby] a real opportunity to be at the forefront of actually influencing some noticeable change that would help Pacific Island rugby get a lot stronger, which in turn would make the global game a lot stronger.”
He acknowledged that New Zealand Rugby have a responsibility to the sport in their own country first, but pointed to the large contribution from the Pacific islands to rugby in New Zealand.
“We look at some of the stats that come out of New Zealand Rugby and the percentage of Pacific island players in the country is huge. In Auckland alone it’s almost half the adult rugby-playing population, you go to places like Wellington and it’s even more.”
Mapusua said the chance for Pacific fans to see their national team players live more often would be huge.
“Which is pretty hard when 80% of the island boys are playing in a different hemisphere,” he said.
Manu Samoa squads are generally made up of players on contracts in France or England, well off the radar of the fans at home.
“When you have local people saying ‘oh who’s that?’ it makes you question it,” Mapusua said.
New Zealand Rugby recently appointed a new chief executive officer in Mark Robinson, and Mapusua said while it’s still early days, what had previously been a closed door now seems to be open.
“He’s been really accommodating, and he’s been awesome to deal with,” Mapusua said of Robinson.
“He has quite a wide peripheral vision I suppose when looking at rugby as a whole, and he’s open to having these discussions, talking about issues and being solution-based.”
Pacific Rugby Players will meet for discussions with the Samoa, Tonga and Fiji rugby unions in the coming weeks.
“Really iron out where we stand at the moment in terms of world rugby, and where we need to get to, and how,” Mapusua said, noting how important a unified voice from the unions is.
“The thing we keep getting back from World Rugby and the Six Nations is ‘you have issues with governance, you have issues in your own backyard,” he said.
Mapusua thinks fixing those troubles would give the island nations a stronger negotiating position to finally see change enacted.