Is the solution to the Pacific Islanders player welfare and financial plight an annual Pacific Island Barbarians match, following a similar format to that of the British and Irish Barbarians?
In a seemingly sudden movement of players with Polynesian heritage to want to represent their ancestral countries after already representing a different international side, the question of why needs to be asked.
Some may feel there is no future for them internationally, playing for the likes of the All Blacks or Wallabies. However the most common trend seems to be the want to “give back” to Pacific Island rugby. “It’s beyond the individual and seeing the benefits of what it can do for second-tier countries,” says Charles Piutau, a player hugely advocating a change in World Rugby’s eligibility rules.
Piutau has been joined by the likes of All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Frank Halai, Steven Luatua and Victor Vito as well as former Wallaby Anthony Fainga’a in expressing a want to represent their ancestral countries and give back to Pacific Island rugby.
Pacific Island rugby is in dire straights financially, and the general theme is that getting the big name guys to play for their respective tier-two countries would attract sponsorship and bring the unions out of financial ruin. Former All Black centre Sam Tuitupou believes this would be the case with regards to the bankrupt Manu Samo were they to secure Luatua and Nonu for the 2019 World Cup.
So yes, it would be good to see players giving back to their respective countries of heritage if they had no international commitments elsewhere. However the likelihood of World Rugby budging on their stance is low.
What the individual Pacific Island unions should be looking into is potentially organising an annual Pacific Island Barbarians side that would allow for international players with Polynesian heritage to be released to play an annual match against a top tier side at one of the big stadia such as Twickenham or the Millennium Stadium.
Such an event would help hugely in funding the financial plight of Pacific Island rugby and give the Pacific Islanders a long overdue identity on rugby’s playing calendar. This “Pacific Island Barbarians” would also allow for the exciting prospect of the “Pacific Island Dream Team” as previously spoken about.
This could see a massive financial and publicity boost for Pacific Island rugby as a whole and create more awareness around the need for proper infrastructure and funding to the tier-two nations. Nations like the bankrupt Manu Samoa would also benefit hugely as they would no longer be operating in financial isolation regarding player welfare for islander players overseas.