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Samoa: Euro clubs to blame?

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Euro clubs loom large over Samoa's depressing World Cup showing

There’s no point glossing over it – this was one of the worst Samoan campaigns in the history of the Rugby World Cup.

The Pacific Island nation registered a single victory, against a brave Russian side who only qualified due to the disqualification of Romania, Spain and Belgium. Nevermind mounting a realistic push for a place for a quarter-final spot, this Samoan side were – maybe for the first time ever – not viewed as a realistic threat to a Tier 1 side.

It is now two decades since they last appeared in the quarter-finals of the sport’s flagship competition and if truth be told – Ireland, Scotland and Japan we’re eyeing them up as a must bag 5-pointer.

It’s a sight that will dismay the rugby-mad archipelago and depress neutrals.

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The root cause of the decline of Samoan Test rugby is multi-factorial, for sure; but a hefty chunk of it is financial.

“We just have to make sure players want to play for Samoa.’ Samoa coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson told reporters in the wake of their humbling 47 – 5 defeat to Ireland. ‘Guys came over here and put the jersey before a piece of paper (club contract).”

Despite a first-half red card for Bundee Aki leaving Ireland with 14-men, the Samoans were unable to make a game of it. A 15-minute defensive shut out of Joe Schmidt’s men was a modest highlight.

This is a team that beat Australia in Australia in 2011; knocked Wales out at the pool stages in 1991 and who snuffed out both Argentina’s and Italy’s campaigns in 1995 in the pool stages.

“We have to change a lot of minds and persuade players this is the route to go down, especially the people in European clubs.

“I don’t have to talk about eligibility and availability but hopefully some common sense in the next four years will change a few things.

“But we also have to look in our own backyard and at our development and ensure we capture them to play for us.”

With an oversupply of professional players chasing lucrative contracts in the Northern Hemisphere, the negotiating power of European clubs over players from the islands has never been stronger. For many islanders – be they Fijian, Tongan or Samoan – who have chosen to partake in the Rugby World Cup, they will have to have foregone on at least a month’s wages – if not entire contracts.

“It shouldn’t happen, but it does. World Rugby can’t control it and neither can we. There is pressure coming from all angles on players trying to feed their families and put a roof over their heads.

“It’s difficult and I understand that. We can only focus on trying to develop them and capture those players early on.”

Prop Paul Alo-Emile summed it up well when asked what Samoa need to become a force again: “I’m not trying to make excuses but if you look at us four years ago, it’s just a different squad every time. So it’s just about consistency in getting the same squad and the same connections.

“Always getting the best Samoan players in the world. Obviously, there are obstacles and club commitments and all that but we need to get the best players and us playing more together at the same time, more Tier 1 games.”

For centre Kieron Fonotia “This game sums up our World Cup. It’s been disappointing.

“If you look at our team on paper, we’ve got some pretty skilful players, and we didn’t achieve the goals that we set.”

For Fonotia, who’s been playing in Europe since 2016, the positives still out way the negatives when playing Samoa.

“It’s just learning more about the Samoan culture. Seeing what my granddad used to see when he was growing up. It’s quite cool just being in Samoa, just experiencing all the little things that he would’ve seen when he was a kid.”

Samoa’s ability, talent or will is not in question. It would be a shame for the rugby world if – in four years time – they are subjected to the same humiliation.

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Euro clubs loom large over Samoa's depressing World Cup showing