Seven players in Australias 2011 World Cup squad were of Polynesian and Melanesian heritage. For the last Lions tour, there were more players of Pacific Island descent (Manu Tuilagi, Mako Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau) than there were Scots in the touring party. There are an estimated 184 professional players of either Samoan, Fijian or Tongan descent playing in European leagues.
Before pointing the finger elsewhere, it is important to stress that many wounds are self-inflicted. The governance on the islands is at best amateurish, at worst open to accusations of corruption as the Samoan players dispute with their union has demonstrated. The First World War aphorism of Lions led by donkeys has never been more applicable.
Neither are Samoas financial problems unique. Fiji sacked their respected coach, Inoke Male, in January to save money while Tonga needed a last-minute contribution from their government to undertake their current European tour. Yet even if the problems are not created elsewhere, the rest of the world often does little to assist. Institutionally, the International Rugby Board Council is weighted against the three Pacific Islands, who collectively share a single vote while the eight founder members have two votes each. Canada, Italy and Japan also have a single vote each.
Other than expenses, Samoa will receive no money for their match on Saturday against England at Twickenham that will turn over several million pounds. This is standard practice for host nations but it is predicated on England returning the favour with their own tour, which they will not. In the last 10 years only Scotland have visited Samoa, although the All Blacks finally relented to pressure by promising a match in Apia next year.
An even more emotive issue is that of the talent drain from the Islands across the world. Particularly in the northern hemisphere, it is painted in black and white with terms such as poaching frequently thrown at New Zealands door when in truth there are several shades of grey involved. The vast majority of the All Blacks Polynesian and Melanesian contingent are New Zealand born and raised.
It is also hard to begrudge Vunipola or Tuilagi representing England considering they were educated there or dispute Fijian Semesa Rokodugunis right to wear the red rose given he fought for the country in Afghanistan.
Feel-good stories such as his are often outweighed by crass cynicism. Peter Harding, Tongas high performance manager, revealed one of the countrys brightest prospects has been offered a contract by a European club with the implicit promise of being fast-tracked into the national team through the three-year residency rule. Even more brazenly, Brive, the Top 14 team, plan to open an academy in Fiji with an annual intake of 25 players.
Yet it is important to remember that an offer of a professional contract or a scholarship is a way out of poverty for many Islanders who will then be relied on to provide for an extended family. It is also a route too a far higher standard of coaching and facilities. Potential earnings would multiply many times over were they to represent a tier-one international rather than the country of their birth. Closing or extending the residency rule would also shut the door on the careers of many Island players, particularly in Super Rugby where there are severe restrictions on foreign players.
Nathan Hughes, Wasps Fijian back row, is a case in point. He was picked up on a New Zealand scholarship when he was 17 and is now halfway towards qualifying for England through the residency rule. It is really hard in Fiji, Hughes said. The facilities are not as good as in other countries. If you get the opportunity to go overseas, people will take it because thats how it all starts. People are just taking that opportunity.
I would classify myself as Fijian from the bottom of my heart, but all you have to think of is your future. All you have to think of is whats going to happen after rugby. You cant play rugby all your life. You have to plan for what you are going to do after that if a family starts happening.