Gifford: Home truths about 'Pasifika poaching'

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
Photosport
NOT THE NORM: Malakai Fekitoa is the only current member of the All Blacks squad with Pacific heritage that was born outside of New Zealand.

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OPINION: Ignorance is the biggest factor in the myth that the All Blacks steal Polynesian players.

One of the strangest myths about the All Blacks is one held very dear by many in English rugby, that we pillage the Pacific Islands for our players.

During the week I had a discussion with a pleasant, intelligent, experienced English journalist, and when I suggested that the great bulk of our All Blacks with Pasifika heritage were born in New Zealand he was too polite to say "nonsense", but he couldn't hide a grimace of absolute disbelief.

So let's just get this straight.

Most of the players of Pacific Island descent in this All Black squad were born here.

Let me give names and places so there's no confusion.

Julian Savea, Ma' Nonu, and Victor Vito were born in Wellington. Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu were born in Auckland. Keven Mealamu was born in Tokoroa. Charles Piutau, who would almost certainly have been in the squad if he hadn't been injured, was born in Auckland.

For geographically challenged members of the northern media, Auckland, Wellington and Tokoroa are cities and a town in New Zealand, not Samoa or Tonga.

There are two members of the 2014 squad born outside New Zealand, Jerome Kaino, from American Samoa, and Malakai Fekitoa, from Tonga.

Kaino came to New Zealand with his family when he was four. Steve Hansen's not a bad talent scout, but there's no record of him scouring the maternity homes of Samoa for future rugby stars.

The brilliant Fekitoa is the only, let me say that again, the only, member of the squad for whom the largely false stereotype of New Zealand rugby stealing away the cream of Pacific talent holds true.

He was a teenage member of the Tongan sevens side, was spotted here, and offered a scholarship to St Stephen's College.

Why does the patent nonsense that, in a 21st century sporting version of 18th century English slave ships, New Zealand steals its talent from the Pacific?

I have my theories. Sheer ignorance seems to be a factor.

New Zealand is no longer little England. Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world. Almost as many Samoans and Tongans live in Auckland as live in their home countries.

The huge wave of immigration in the 1960s means that many Pacific Islanders in New Zealand are now second and third generation Kiwis as well.

But the change in the ethnic makeup of New Zealand doesn't seem to have penetrated the mindset of the average London-based journo.

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Just because you meet a Pasifika player who is shy, goes to church on Sunday, and speaks glowing of his mother, doesn't mean he grew up beside a sleepy lagoon on Savai'i. He's just as likely to have grown up in Glenfield or Glen Innes, but been brought up to respect family and tradition.

The other issue might be loosely described as butt covering. British club rugby is littered with Pacific Island players, and while some, like Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola, made the move to England as children with their families, they were not born there.

There have, in fact, been test matches in recent years when England has played the All Blacks with more players born outside England than the All Blacks had players born outside New Zealand.

We don't gripe about Pacific players making their living in Britain. Why doesn't the reverse hold true?

Footnote: In passing the one All Black everyone in Britain knows is Jonah Lomu. You guessed it, he was born in Auckland.

- Sunday Star Times

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