The New Zealand Rugby Union is rapidly running out of excuses as to why it won't have the All Blacks play a test in Samoa.
There has long been a push to get the men in black to play in Apia, and now the appetite for that match-up to happen is growing. The two rugby-mad nations have only played each other five times, the last being six years ago. All of those games have been in New Zealand, making little impact on the financial wellbeing of the struggling Samoan union, while leaving fans with that empty feeling.
Historically, the All Blacks have done well out of cultivating Polynesian talent, especially Samoan players over the past few decades.
Some of the greats of All Black rugby have Samoan heritage, including legends of the game such as Michael Jones, Bryan Williams and Frank Bunce.
The small Pacific nation has an almost freakish and consistent ability to produce world-class players, not just for Samoa and New Zealand, but for many other nations, too. It is time for some acknowledgement of what Samoa has offered to the sport. The All Blacks should play Samoa, in Samoa, and soon. It's more than just the game, it's about showing respect to a country of 190,000 that has already given more than its fair share.
High on the list of excuses for the All Blacks not playing in Samoa are player fatigue and welfare, and money. These and other obstacles are easy to overcome if the desire to play is there. Player issues could be mitigated by dropping one of the June test matches (traditionally against an understrength northern hemisphere team), while medical and rehab facilities in Samoa could be upgraded to get the thumbs up from worried NZRU bosses.
New Zealand and Samoan business interests would surely pitch in to help cover logistics costs, such as temporary stands and getting the playing surface up to scratch. Even if there was a financial shortfall it would be offset by the benefits of the game and the sheer feelgood factor. Professional players take dozens of flights each year, so four hours to Samoa is hardly going to be a dealbreaker. The NZRU turned a $2.9 million profit last year, not a huge amount for an organisation with an annual income of almost $120 million. However, it has more than $60 million in cash reserves. It can certainly afford to make the game happen and there are benefits for them, too, as such a big game will flush out even more Samoan talent for New Zealand to benefit from.
Later this year the All Blacks will play the United States in Chicago at a 70,000 seat stadium in a bid to showcase the sport to a North American audience. From revenue and sponsorship angles it makes great sense, but from a spectator and fan point of view there's no heart or soul to the match-up.
Not so with Samoa. The sense of occasion would surely lift the home side and provide a worthy challenge for the world champions.
Shouldn't players and administrators want a fresh challenge, one that befits their title as the world's greatest rugby team? In NZRU documents it says that its purpose is to "be a world-leading sports organisation and enable all of rugby to be the best it can be". It's time for them to live up to that statement.
- The Dominion Post