It has always been a challenge in the professional era for the Pacific Island nations to make sure all their eligible players are available to them in international windows and it looks as if that could again be an issue for Fiji at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
World Rugby’s bylaws state that all players must be released by domestic clubs for international windows if selected, but that doesn’t protect against the more lucrative contracts which are handed out in return for premature international retirements or players fearing for how secure their future might be if they are regularly away from their club on international duty. With Fiji, Samoa and Tonga not even close to being able to offer, for example, the £22,000 match fees each England players receive per game, international careers do not offer their players the same kind of financial security.
Fiji head coach John McKee recently announced an extended 50-man training squad for the Pacific Nations Cup, with that group set to be cut down to 38 next week.
With New Zealand Super Rugby sides only able to carry two foreign or non-New Zealand-eligible players, any decisions made by players at one of those five franchises to opt to represent Fiji – or Samoa or Tonga – can impact their leverage in future contract negotiations.
Fiji’s preparations for the tournament were also hampered earlier this year by the international retirements of Montpellier pair Nemani Nadolo and Timoci Nagusa, although thankfully for McKee, wing is a position where Fiji are well-stocked to survive their absences.
Despite that, players who opt to make the move to Europe and take up the bigger money contracts on offer tend to be more readily available, with clubs in general able to carry more ‘foreign’ players and not be dictated to by national eligibility. Of Fiji’s 50-man training squad, 36 are currently based in France, England or Scotland, with only 14 players from the southern hemisphere nations or Japan.
With no inclusion in Super Rugby and their eligible players in New Zealand, Australian and Japan often reluctant to commit their international futures, the Pacific Island nations continue to fight against the odds.
Watch: Fiji move on from their defence coach ahead of the RWC
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