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'Our game's never going to grow': Ex-All Black's plea to World Rugby

By Sam Smith

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Former All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan has labelled Tonga’s 102-0 thumping at the hands of the All Blacks last weekend as “unacceptable” as he questioned whether World Rugby had “done their job” to grow the international game.

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Speaking on Sky Sport‘s The Breakdown earlier this week, Kirwan called on the “rugby community” to come together to help resolve the disparity between tier one and tier two nations.

“We all need to take some responsibility,” the 1987 World Cup winner and former Italy, Japan and Blues head coach said.

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“The French clubs who won’t release players, the Japanese Rugby Union, who’s got this test eligibility thing where if you’ve got a test cap then you can’t go there and play, World Rugby, Tongan and Samoan officials over in the Islands – everyone has some responsibility.”

Much has been made about World Rugby’s eligibility laws in the wake of New Zealand’s thumping of their Pacific Island neighbours.

Many have called on the game’s global governing body to relax rules to make it easier for former internationals who have been capped by tier one nations to play for tier two nations that they would otherwise be eligible to play for.

Without such players, tier two nations have struggled to compete with more established rugby countries, of which was underlined by the All Blacks-Tonga scoreline in Auckland last Saturday.

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Kirwan compared the imbalance in test rugby to the competitiveness of international football as he pointed to the current European Championship as an example of what can be achieved in rugby if self-interest is put to one side.

The 56-year-old said if powerful European nations continued to push back on proposals to enable tier two nations with access to the game’s best players, then international rugby will struggle to reach its full potential.

“For me, it’s unacceptable. I love my football and I’ve been watching the European Cup and it’s been amazing, the close scores, the teams that are competitive, and you can only do that with investment and putting your backyard to one side.

“The last time I heard… Scotland and Ireland voted against the eligibility [laws], they voted against things where they were worried about Tonga and Samoa getting stronger. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I got it from a good source. 

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“If we start doing this, our game’s never going to grow. If you’re worried about Samoa and Tonga coming up and beating Ireland and Wales or whoever, you need to look in your own backyard first and say, ‘We need to do it better’.”

Kirwan added Samoa and Tonga aren’t the only tier two nations that need assistance to become more competitive on the international scene.

“Who’s made the top eight [in the World Cup] in the last 25 years?” he asked The Breakdown.

“Has World Rugby done their job if Georgia hasn’t made it? I mean Samoa smashed Wales at Cardiff Arms [Park], when was that? 100 years ago now,” he said, referencing Samoa’s famous 16-13 win over Wales at the 1991 World Cup.

“They made the semi-finals [they made the quarter-finals for the only time in their history before losing to Scotland] and they’ve gone backwards since. That is an indictment on our game. We need a competitive game.

“We don’t need England playing the All Blacks again in the semi-final in 10 years’ time. We need Samoa or we need Georgia or Romania.”

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'Our game's never going to grow': Ex-All Black's plea to World Rugby

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