NZRU: what about the Pacific?


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Eighty seven per cent was the scorecard the NZ Rugby Union (NZRU) gave itself at its recent annual general meeting. On the back of the All Blacks regaining the rugby world cup in 2011 and a much improved financial performance, the NZRU was feeling pretty good about itself as it reflected on the previous year. There are a number of overall objectives that the rugby union measures itself against and this was the best result they’d had ever. The boys gave themselves a good old pat on the back for a job well done.

Towards 2016 sets out the six ambitious goals for the NZRU. Back to back rugby world cups, gold medals at the Olympics with 7’s about to be introduced and making rugby the sport of choice in wider Auckland. The final goal is to ‘build a positive global presence’. NZRU are committed to enhancing relationships with the IRB, SANZAR, Argentina, British and Irish Lions, Australia and the US. It’s quite simple to get an idea of why these countries and unions are so important to NZRU. The nostalgia that sets in when rugby fanatics think back to nail-biting games that have decided the Bledisloe, the ongoing rivalry between NZ and South Africa especially the world cup game where our players got ‘food poisoning’ and who can forget the nations pain of not getting past the quarter finals in 2007. Nostalgia aside, these unions are pivotal to NZ for the development of the game, especially in terms of revenue.

So what about the Pacific nations? Under goal 6 the NZRU state that they will achieve positive global presence by enhancing these “traditional international relationships”. Yet nowhere on this list of unions or regions is there any mention of Pacific nations. Are we to assume that the NZRU has no ongoing relationship with the Pacific Islands? Or does the Pacific not provide enough revenue to warrant an ongoing relationship? On the one hand the NZRU say that they are committed to Pacific communities, whilst wanting to protect, promote and retain players of Pacific Islands’ descent. On the other hand, the NZRU have done nothing to pathway Pacific players from the field to the boardroom, let alone allow the All Blacks to play in the region. This suggests to me that the pervading belief is that our boys are too inferior to be on decision-making boards (and even play at no 10 according to some!) This is the shallow rhetoric of developing Pacific players and the game.

Rugby is a religion in NZ… and for players of Pasifika heritage it’s a financial lifeline to supporting families here in NZ and abroad. Perhaps the NZRU’s sixth goal should have read… “Achieve positive global presence with rugby nations beyond the Pacific with unions that have lots of money” because that’s the truth of the matter.


  1. You’re right, a lot of it is financial and issues relating to infrastructure. Sometimes on-field performance just doesn’t cut it – case in point the Argentinians, who spent decades in the international wilderness despite having occasional wins over Australia and regular victories against the French, including on their home patch largely due to the fact that their union insisted on amateurism while pretty much all the other tier 1 nations moved on, and lack of actual viable rugby facilities. The Argentinians have successfully gained entrance into a top level rugby competition and part of it involved the introduction of an Argentinian team in a professional competition (the Pampas in the South African Vodacom Cup that runs roughly parallel to Super Rugby, where they’ve proven their credentials by winning the tournament in 2011), so maybe the Pacific Island unions can lobby to do something similar.

    One option would be to introduce professional Pacific Island teams to the ITM Cup (it would be more difficult to get them into Super Rugby, namely because they’ll need approval of 3 separate unions to get into an already congested competition), but there will also be issues of player availability because Pacific Island players are an attractive proposition for European and Japanese clubs who would have far more money to spend than the Pacific Island unions.

  2. You are probably right on all counts Efeso. Let’s give the NZRU the benefit of the doubt on the issue of institutional racism, but we it’s certainly fair to ask the question.

    The NZRU are going where the money is of course. Free market and all that jazz. But there is nothing stopping Pacific Islanders turning to the NRL or American Football instead of rugby. If the NZRU faced more competition for talent from these codes, they would probably rethink their relationships with Pacific Island rugby in a hurry.

    Can’t stand rugby union my self. Give me league or give me…the remote so I can change the channel.

  3. There is no money to be made involving Pacific Island teams in any major competition. This is a fact and explains why the NZRFU wouldn’t and indeed shouldn’t support that concept.

    The NZRFU has as it’s primary focus the development of the game within NZ. They currently do support Rugby Union in the Pacific Island’s by providing a lot of technical support as well as having lesser teams play them in competitions like the Pacific cup. Anything more than that would reduce the money available to support the game in .NZ.

    I find it interesting the author of this article mentions the large numbers if Pacific Islanders making a living out of the game. He seemingly fails to realise that this would not be possible without the commercial imperatives that drive Union’s like NZ on.

    As for NRL or NFL taking over ask yourself whether those competitions would do anything different.

      • Would you care to advise how the NZRFU would be able to keep the top players in NZ when other nations are looking to pay top dollar for them if they don’t maximise their revenue?

        • The problem becomes double for the Pacific Island teams. At least the NZRU is in a much better position (financially) due to the Adidas and AIG sponsorships, which are the two biggest in rugby. The Pacific Island teams don’t have that. Further, the European clubs see Pacific Islanders as attractive additions to their squad because the Kolpak Agreement applies to them (and South Africans) for some reason, while a lot have played in Japan, where the clubs are paying silly money right now thanks to the stacks of cash that the major corporations that own the clubs have.

          The European clubs in particular have a history of denying Pacific Island teams player releases through fair means or foul, the most egregious being at the 2003 RWC.

        • The key thing that is missing in NZRU’s engagements with P.I. rugby is the trading of rugby intellectual property – i.e. game strategy, development, training etc. and rugby administration skills between the countries. Admittedly, PI rugby administrators don’t help themselves with their corrupt operations, e.g. Manu Samoa management (or lack of management) at the 2011 RWC, but the NZRU seem to be happy to let high schools in NZ cherry pick PI talent STRAIGHT from the Islands. If NZRU really cared about P.I. rugby they would give far more assistance to P.I. unions with administration and development. I think in 7’s we can see that when the combination of PI nations having good enough development – through good facilities and the correct training – and adequate funding is provided for the teams to operate with is combined with the talent that is available in the islands then the P.I. teams are able to foot it with the top rugby nations at an international level.

          Surely, it doesn’t cost much for NZRU assist with paying for more full-time, seasoned coaches and administrators to operate in the islands? Which renders your argument about financing invalid. If the NZRU have already tried this but the island rugby unions have been unwilling to co-operate, fair enough. But if they haven’t, then the NZRU are doing a good job of hiding their lack of empathy behind their multi-million dollar, glamourous All Blacks brand. If this is true, then aren’t the NZRU just scared of island nations being capable of beating the All Blacks because the All Blacks won’t be as profitable?

  4. As long as Rugby Union continues to be the game of the National Party, private schools in Australia, the conservative Boers in South Africa, the Argentinian oligarchy, the collaborators of Vichy France, and the English public schools, I’m happy to support League. Union has always stood with the forces of reaction, even now being one of the last strongholds of domestic violence.
    Of course, League is also not without its problems, but it can’t rely on the justice system to help cover these up.

  5. Perhaps some examination should be given to the blind eye given to the use of PI players by so called top auckland schools. They are treated as little more than a commodity.

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