World Rugby has refuted claims by All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen that it isn’t doing enough for Pacific Island nations.
He said countries such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji don’t get enough exposure against tier one sides between World Cups, which hinders their growth as rugby-playing nations.
“The problem that we’ve got is a calendar that doesn’t allow you to do that,” Hansen said.
“We have these wonderful ideas about growing the game but we don’t have an organisation at the top that wants to be strong enough to say, ‘Righto, this is what we’re doing, we’re going to have a global season’.”
Hansen went on to criticise the Six Nations for their unwillingness to help accomodate the growth of those smaller nations given the power that they wield within the international game.
“The Six Nations rule world test rugby programs. They don’t want to give that up and until they’re prepared to give that up, we’re not going to see any progress in that area,” he said.
World Rugby responded with a statement to the Daily Telegraph, claiming that it had pumped “a record £60m support package for the teams outside of the Six Nations and SANZAAR to compete at Rugby World Cup 2019”.
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“One hundred and twenty of the 150 coaches and support staff involved in these teams have been identified and funded by World Rugby, while the Americas and Pacific combines and Fijian Drua are ensuring an environment that enables these unions to retain and develop their best young local talent and many of these players will feature at Japan 2019.”
World Rugby contributes £250,000 per year to support the Fijian Drua in Australia’s National Rugby Championship competition, of which they won last year.
Furthermore, the organisation also funds the salaries of various head coaches of tier two nations, including that of John McKee (Fiji), Kingsley Jones (Canada) and Phil Davies (Namibia).
World Rugby’s statement did not, however, address Hansen’s concerns regarding the number of test matches Pacific Island nations get against tier one opposition between World Cups, and the lack of a global calendar.
Since the 2015 World Cup, the All Blacks have played 47 test matches, compared to Tonga’s 21.
Hansen sympathised with Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu, acknowledging the difficulty of bringing together a number of players from around the globe and trying to prepare them for a test match in a short amount of time.
“It’s really difficult [for me] when your players play for five different franchises in New Zealand,” Hansen said.
“So I can only imagine how difficult it would be when your players are playing all over the world and you’re bringing them back and you don’t have much time to prepare them.
“Whatever happened yesterday, [Tonga] will get way better by the time they get to the tournament [World Cup].”
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