“This is a time of self- centredness and greed in rugby”
The Pacific Islands are still struggling to compete in the pro era, so what’s the way forward? Stephen Jones spells out what’s needed
ost of you will remember the stunning Fiji wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca. If the name is not familiar, then watch some clips online and you will find yourself wondering whether this was the greatest attacking rugby player the game has seen – and yes, I remember David Campese, Gerald Davies and the host of wonderful Fijians, Samoans and Tongans, three island nations where rugby skills appear to be part of the DNA.
Fiji have often threatened to set the rugby world alight. Way back in 1970 they played a powerhouse Barbarians side in Gosforth and such was the Fijian brilliance that several Barbarians clapped one of the galaxy of gorgeous tries scored by their opponents.
Yet for all three teams, it is a long, horribly difficult and usually unrewarding march. There has been a decent flurry of activity around the three nations recently. Two Super Rugby games were played in the islands – Chiefs v Crusaders drew a significant local crowd in Suva, Fiji, but Blues v Reds had few spectators in Apia, Samoa, because the ticket prices were astronomical. Hardly a missionary game.
Then last month Eden Park hosted the Pasifika Challenge. Samoa faced New Zealand as a warm-up for the All Blacks’ Test series against the Lions, the islanders going down 78-0, and, on the same bill, Wales played Tonga, winning 24-6.
In this magazine we have always treated with distaste the almost total lack of inclination on behalf of the major rugby nations in taking their top teams to the islands, a grim run broken in 2015 quite joyously when the All Blacks went to play Samoa.
But there’s no criticism of the authorities for moving the Tonga v Wales game from Nuku’alofa. The Tongans are in such an administrative and financial state that there were simply not enough Smooth mover tim Nanai-Williams breaks v all Blacks