New Manu Samoa call-up Belgium Tuatagaloa has put his career in jeopardy after opting to play for his country ahead of this year’s World Cup instead of staying with his club in France, according to Stuff.
The 29-year-old, who played sevens for both New Zealand and Samoa, was contracted to Valence Romans, which played in the Fédérale One, the third tier of French rugby, before earning promotion into the Pro D2.
Tuatagaloa was in contract negotiations with the side for the new season, but after being named in the Samoan squad for the first time for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup, he was given an ultimatum.
“They offered me a contract before I knew I was going to be selected for the Samoan team,” Tuatagaloa told Stuff.
“We were negotiating the contract and a month later I got the call from Mr Jackson [Samoa coach Steve Jackson] that I’d made the team.
“So I told the [Valence Romans] coach [Johann Authier], at that time he said it was good that I’d made the team, but I don’t think he believed me.
“Three weeks after that he said to me that they were going to come back with another offer, but with this offer I have to choose whether I play in the World Cup, or stay with us.
“He told me I could attend the camp for the PNC [Pacific Nations Cup], then before we played in our semi-final he told me they were scared of letting me go to the camp, because I might make the World Cup squad.
“He didn’t say ‘we don’t want you to go to the PNC,’ but he was trying to hint for two weeks that they wanted a player who was going to be here for the beginning of the Pro D2 season.
“After that he called my agent and told me they weren’t going to contract me because I might make the World Cup team.
“When I hit him up about that, he said the president says he doesn’t want to pay for players who attend the World Cup instead of playing with us.”
World Rugby’s regulation nine stipulates that players must be released by their clubs for World Cups, but French sides have become notorious for finding ways around this, with Pacific Island players often the victims of such scenarios as a result of belonging to unions with less power and financial strength to challenge that of European clubs.
“I guess at the end of the day they didn’t want to contract a player who wasn’t going to be there at the beginning of the season,” Tuatagaloa said.
“I did have one final talk with the coach and he said there was one solution, if I make the World Cup they can bring me back as a medical joker.
“I was like whatever, because my focus is to play for my country. I was never going to pick a club over my country.
“I’ve never played XVs for Samoa before and this might be the only opportunity I get.
“I wanted to come back and play for my country. If I’d played for Samoa before, or if I had a family, maybe I might have stayed, but I don’t have anyone, so I could choose to come back and play for my country.”
Fearing he may have been replaced in the squad if Jackson knew about his predicament, Tuatagaloa, who is now without a club, reverted to talking with his father about the situation, before eventually deciding to commit to Samoa.
“I didn’t want to talk to him [Jackson] about it, because I didn’t want to ruin my chances with the Samoan team,” he said.
“I’m a new player in the squad, so I didn’t want to put any pressure on the head coach, because he’s got a 1000 other players to choose from and it was an honour for me to be selected.
“So I had a chat with my dad and then made the decision that I was going to go the camp.”
Should Tuatagaloa perform well for Samoa at the Pacific Nations Cup, it will put him in good stead to challenge for a place in the World Cup squad in a couple months’ time.
He hopes that if he can get an opportunity to prove his worth on the global stage in Japan, then offers from other clubs will come rolling in.
“The plan is to play well in the PNC and make the World Cup and after that to look for another contract to go overseas,” he said.
“Hopefully I’ll get one, if not, I’ll try to play for a province in New Zealand.”
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