Toa Samoa, Martin Taupau and World Rugby’s prohibitive laws
In sporting circles, victories for small countries like ours are hard to come by. So when we do get one, we need to enjoy and savour the moment.
This is why Feagaiga Stowers’ achievement on the front page of the paper you are reading is amazing. She is truly a world-beater and is on her way to greater and mightier things.
Then there is Don Opeloge whom we’ve already talked about.
But perhaps the victory on everyone’s mind is that of the Toa Samoa on Sunday morning. It was a sweet moment.
The truth is that for the Toa Samoa and the Samoa Rugby league family, it been had been three long years between wins so when captain Anthony Milford and his men defeated a valiant Papua New Guinea outfit, it was a moment worth cherishing.
Many people would say but it’s only Papua New Guinea and the Oceania Cup.
Well they have a point but we need to put things in perspective here. Anyone who has been to Papua New Guinea would know rugby league is their national sport.
In fact they are probably even crazier about league in Port Moresby than in most Australian cities. Some eight million Kumuls supporters would have watched passionately their men up against Toa Samoa hoping against hope that an upset was on the card.
For a moment there, that looked quite possibly. It was a very challenging test match for the men in blue and although coach Matt Parish’s team kind of ran away with the game in the end, the Kumuls by no means disgraced themselves. They were in it with a shout for the best part of the match.
But there was more to the win. Throughout the week, the decision by Martin Taupau and Jamayne Isaako to switch allegiances from New Zealand to Samoa had dominated the discussions. Some commentators were comparing Taupau’s move to that of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita for Tonga.
Which was true to some extent. For young Isaako, he had a lot more sentimental reason behind his decision. With his father’s illness, he wanted to honour him by pulling on the blue jersey while he was still alive. Against the Kumuls, Isaako played like a man on a mission. He was impressive.
And so was Taupau and many of the Toa Samoa players.
One of the best things about international rugby league is that their eligibility rules allow the best of the best to represent their countries.
While New Zealand and Australia gets the first pick on their players, the teams for countries like Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, PNG and others still feature many quality players who are still on top of their game. Which is why the test matches are always interesting to watch.
Unlike rugby union where the eligibility rules are so prohibitive, it’s wonderful to see all those players of Samoan blood turning out for their country. Imagine the Manu Samoa being able to do the same thing with all those Super rugby players in New Zealand and Australia.
It’s fair to say that we can string together a Manu Samoa team with those on the fringe players and would probably give the All Blacks a run for their money. Think of guys like Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino, Steve Luatua and many others who could be wearing the blue jersey at the World Cup. Think of someone like Lima Sopoaga turning up for Samoa, Melani Nanai and so many other players.
Interestingly enough, during the same weekend, the Samoa Rugby Union announced the Manu Samoa’s Pacific Nations Cup team. While the squad is not the final team for the Rugby World Cup, it’s fair to say the core of the World Cup team would come from this group.
Which is sad because there are some players in there who shouldn’t even be there. Some of these guys have been in the Manu Samoa for so long they shoud be resting on the sidelines by now and offering advice.
But because the player pool in terms of professional players is so limited, the Manu Samoa coaching staff have been left with no other choice.
We’ve said this before we will say this again. World Rugby should take a leaf out of Rugby League’s book when it comes to eligibility rules. If it’s an interesting competition they are looking for, World Rugby needs to strengthen the so-called minnow nations.
We’ve seen far too many one-sided matches at the World Cup simply because the gap between these countries continues to grow bigger by the day.
What’s needed is some radical thinking from World Rugby to allow the best players for each country – including players that are eligible through blood and ancestry – to turn up and represent.
Not only will the games become more interesting to watch, those quality players can set the bar for local players to aspire and aim for. In the end, everyone wins. What do you think?
Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!