European clubs are being accused of paying their foreign players to snub their respective nations at World Cups.
The World Cup usually overlaps the European domestic season, which will happen again at the 2015 campaign in England.
This is likely to encourage the practice among clubs of offering financial incentives to their foreign players to ignore their countries’ call-ups, depriving the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from fielding their best team on the biggest international stage.
If the players ignore their club offers, they could find themselves unemployed.
Former Fiji flyhalf Nicky Little, who played in four World Cups and played in five different European leagues, dubs this practice ‘blackmail’.
‘For many seasons, European and UK-based Islanders have either been blackmailed not to play for their countries, or had pay docked when they were with their national teams,’ said Little.
Former Racing Metro coach Simon Mannix claimed that Fijians at the French Top 14 club were paid to make themselves unavailable for the 2011 World Cup: ‘Racing Métro had Fijians who declined to go to the World Cup … because the club gave them a cheque if they stayed here [in Paris].’
International Rugby Players’ Association chairman Damien Hopley has informed the IRB about this.
‘The IRB are aware of this practice. It is imperative that the World Cup is defined by the best playing against the best,’ said Hopley. ‘We look forward to receiving a formal response to a problem that is threatening the integrity of this fantastic competition.’
The IRB has rules in place – in regulation nine – that forbid clubs from offering any form of disincentive, either through “contract or conduct”, to players to represent their country, but critics say the international body has shown little appetite to enforce it.
The IRB has yet to investigate allegations made by Mannix.
The Racing players who declined to play for Fiji in the 2011 Pacific Nations Cup, effectively ruling themselves out of World Cup selection, are Sireli Bobo, Jone Qovu (both still with Racing) and Josh Matavesi (now at Worcester).
Racing Metro president Jacky Lorenzetti denied the club have made any illegal payments or broken any regulations.
The USA also lost out on Northampton lock Samu Manoa at last year’s World Cup after the player declined his call-up.
USA coach Eddie O’Sullivan said this was because a clause in Manoa’s contract that prevented him from travelling to New Zealand. Northampton denied this, with a club spokesman saying: ‘There is no clause in his contract preventing him playing international rugby. It was Samu’s choice not to go to New Zealand with the USA.’