IRB gives backing to All Blacks test in Pacific

TOP MAN: IRB chief executive Brett Gosper.
TOP MAN: IRB chief executive Brett Gosper.

The IRB has pledged to put its weight behind the All Blacks' proposed first ever test in the Pacific Islands as the historic fixture edges closer to becoming a reality. 

After New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew conceded recently that there was now real intent to play a test in the Pacific - probably in Samoa - at an appropriate time in the future, IRB chief executive Brett Gosper yesterday added his voice to the chorus calling for the match to go ahead.

The All Blacks have never played an official test in the Pacific and have never visited Samoa during the 90 years of its history - a situation most people in rugby now accept has to be addressed given the cultural and rugby ties that are firmly entrenched.

Gosper, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland yesterday, said the game's global governing body would do everything in its power to make the fixture a reality.

"It really is New Zealand rugby's decision but we make no secret we'd love to see the All Blacks play in the Pacific -- in Samoa, or anywhere in that region," Gosper said during a visit to coincide with the world under-20 championships. "We like to see the All Blacks play everywhere because they're a great promoter of the game throughout the world.

"People criticise the commercial element of going to Chicago [this November] versus going to a place like Samoa, but it's great for the development of the game they go to Chicago, and it's great for the development of the game they go to Tokyo.

"But given the fact we're the biggest investor in rugby in the Pacific region, we'd love to see the All Blacks appear there at some point, and we would do what we can to make it happen."

The IRB pump around $16 million annually into the Pacific region and Gosper said his organisation would be prepared to help in any way it could with the staging of an All Blacks test there.

"I know at political levels there's a lot of appetite for it, and that's understandable," added the Australian. "The links between New Zealand and the Pacific are huge, culturally and in rugby. It would be a great gesture if it could happen, no question."

The game's top administrator, though, admitted the IRB was limited in what it could do around player releases for any All Blacks test in the Pacific that fell outside the agreed June and November windows.

"I would hope if this was going happen, it would happen in the right way, and the players have a role in that. The clubs aren't insensitive to these things. But if it could happen within the window it might be easier for everyone."

The IRB remained vigilant, Gosper said, in terms of ensuring its significant funding in the Pacific was being directed into the appropriate channels.

The world governing body had recently had to suspend funding to Fiji because of concerns in this area.

"We pulled funding in order to make some corrections, and that's happening at the moment. We're pretty happy Fiji are getting back on track and will provide an economic model that makes us feel comfortable about the way they're investing their money.

"All we want is to make sure what's intended as investment ends up where it's meant to end up and generally speaking the unions are working hard to ensure that."

Gosper said he hoped the fixture clash that resulted in England being under-strength for last night's opening test in Auckland could be avoided in future, but he confirmed that the test dates had been set in stone and agreed by the CEOs of all the national unions a long time ago.

Sunday Star Times