The accusations by the British press against New Zealand rugby for allegedly poaching the Pacific's finest are so predictable that this World Cup the defence came first.
The first strains of a chorus from the north bemoaning New Zealand's supposed pillaging of South Seas rugby talent were sounded yesterday by the All Blacks' most trenchant critic - the Welshman and English rugby apologist Stephen Jones.
Jones writes that Samoa would be a world rugby powerhouse, perhaps even world champions, if their finest talent had not been stolen by New Zealand.
He supports his assertion by offering the statistic that five af the All Blacks' World Cup squad are Samoan-born.
But his major evidence had already been shot down by Dominion Post rugby writer Jim Kayes, who pointed out that 12 of the Samoan squad were Kiwi-born in a column a week ago.
England's impending showdown with Samoa provided the soapbox for Jones, a long-time baiter of New Zealand rugby, to attack the All Blacks.
"Just how great would Samoa be if they had been allowed to choose all their eligible players. In my opinion, they could well by now become world champions," Jones wrote in his Sunday Times column.
"It is hardly a shock that Samoans as a race, and especially Samoan rugby players, flock to New Zealand. It is life, and a living.
"It is also the most fabulous good fortune for Kiwis that they are the nearest country of any commercial strength to the most remarkable rugby nursery in the world, bar none. Bryan Williams, Olo Brown, Michael Jones, Va'aiga Tuigamala and Tana Umaga are all in the pantheon of All Black greats, yet all could have played their whole careers for Samoa."
Anticipating this well worn set-piece, Kayes mounted the defence for New Zealand rugby a week in advance.
In a column appearing on Stuff on September 12 headlined Time British scribes got it right, Kayes pointed out that there are more New Zealand-born players in Samoa's squad than Samoan-born players in the All Blacks - debunking the myth that New Zealand gobbles up the Pacific's finest while offering nothing in return.
Kayes also writes that at least eight more of the Samoan squad have played first class rugby in New Zealand, their coach, All Blacks great Michael Jones, was also born in New Zealand, and assistant coach Pita Fatialofa was a Ponsonby and Auckland stalwart.
"The attacks on the racial make up of the All Blacks have always conveniently ignored the immigration trends of Pacific Islanders moving to New Zealand and the diverse cultural mix in our major cities," writes Kayes.
So, the evidence has been presented on both sides. The debate will undoubtedly continue in perpetuity on talkback, on rugby blogs, in bars, by water coolers and in the pages of newspapers - without resolution.
And Jones's verdict on the upcoming clash between England and Samoa? An England win.
"... but I believe it will be close, and that Samoa may come close to disproving the theory that modern-day excellence in test rugby depends on funding, technology, time together, endless fretting over tiny detail, and pay cheque. Sometimes, it depends on will and your love affair with your own people, and their struggle. England beware."
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