Samoa's IRB representative Harry Schuster wants an
investigation into former All Black Simon Mannix's
allegations that French club Racing Metro paid three Fijian
players not to go to the World Cup last year.
"The IRB rules are very clear and should be enforced. The
problem of player availability is a recurring issue for the
Pacific Islands and smaller nations. If we had the money,
we'd have taken someone to court already," said Schuster.
"The IRB have to bring this to a head now, investigate and
find out what's going on. Otherwise the same scenario is
going to happen again and again. Players should not be put in
a situation where they are bullied by rich men into not
representing their countries."
Schuster said that players find themselves in a Catch 22
situation where they might want to play for their countries
but would be penalised financially by their clubs.
Sireli Bobo and Jone Qovu pulled out of the Fiji squad citing
personal reasons, while Josh Matavesi withdrew citing club
Former Samoan international-turned-agent Freddie Tuilagi said
in The Independent that his brothers Alesana, who
represented Samoa, and Manu, who represented England, both
had their wages docked by 50 per cent at the last World Cup
by English club Leicester in a clear breach of IRB
English players were paid an estimated £50,000 ($97,000) for
the duration of the tournament - but cash-strapped Samoa
can't pay that kind of money.
Schuster is due to attend an IRB meeting in Dublin this week
where issues of player availability will be discussed. IRB
president Bernard Lapasset promised there would be strong
sanctions against the Parisian club if found guilty - though
no inquiry has yet been launched.
Rugby insiders believe French and English unions have no
stomach for a fight with clubs and their powerful owners
while rugby's governing body are yet to show any enthusiasm
to tackle the issue.
Lapasset acknowledged that there have been rumours of clubs
being in breach of IRB's regulation 9 (on player
availability) for years. However, no club has ever been
brought to book.
They cannot plead ignorance - while Mannix's statement was
reported in the Independent earlier this month, his
comments were made on the IRB's own radio show, Total Rugby,
French sports daily L'Equipe investigated the claims
in May, raising the issue with the IRB who responded in a
statement on June 6 that "The IRB can only act on player
release issues if requested to do so by a union or if it is
provided with credible evidence that would allow it to pursue
its own inquiry."
Earlier this month Matavesi confirmed to UK Sky Sports' The
Rugby Club that Racing players were paid to remain available
for their club and not to play for their country. The IRB
then released a similar statement that was amended to say
that the source of "credible evidence" needed to come from "a
union or recognised rugby body".
But under regulation 9.36, the IRB has the power "to initiate
an investigation of its own motion" - there are no caveats as
to where the information needs to come from.
Schuster says that if the IRB isn't prepared to enforce its
own rules, "there's no hope for us and the other smaller
unions - Georgia, Romania, the US - to compete at the same
level as the big teams."
The Oceania representative is clearly fed up with the way
rugby is run: "I don't believe in the old boys' network. It's
time to shake up the system. Governance structures should be
reformed. Oceania represents 13 countries, yet I have only
one vote. Frankly, I find that strange."
Tier one unions - Six Nations and Sanzar - have two votes
each, excepting Italy and Argentina who have only one, as do
Japan and Canada. Oceania and the five other regions have one
The tier one nations have consistently voted themselves
additional payments to make up for lost takings in World Cup
years: last year they received 4.5 million each, while tier
two nations like the Pacific Islands - excluded from major
competitions and unable to generate any meaningful revenue -
got nothing. In 2015, the additional payment jumps to 7.5
England's RFU are set to make a profit of 17 million from
this year's November tests alone; Samoa, unable to cover the
costs of hosting tier one sides, lose money when they play at
Schuster's patience is running out: "People talk about what
Argentina have done, and it's great. But the Pacific Islands
teams have the ability to break through as well."
- By John Daniell