Let Samoa into Rugby Championship
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Would there be a point in a one-off rugby test in Samoa?
Despite the growing chorus of public opinion in favour of the proposal, it might serve little real or long-term benefit to Samoan Rugby.
One-off tests do not add any real value to the development of a rugby team. This is especially true when those tests involve an under-prepared and probably under-strength Samoan team playing against the world champions (the score in the 2008 test between the All Blacks and Samoa was 107-14).
The issue of a global rugby season is pertinent once again as club and international calendars need to be aligned across both hemispheres to ensure the world's best players are available (Samoa has many top European-based players).
Samoa might not even reap any significant financial benefit from a game in a stadium with a maximum capacity of 15,000 and ticket prices that would have to be priced low enough to be affordable the general Samoan population.
It is a true shame of world rugby that Samoa is never allowed to reach its potential because of a lack of financial resources, difficult access to its top players, difficult retention of younger players and the lack of an international competition. Some of these issues are able to be overcome in World Cup years and Samoa show glimpses of being a truly world class rugby nation as a result. They were easily on par with both Wales and South Africa in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the same year they convincingly beat Australia in Sydney.
Including Samoa in the Rugby Championship would be a more effective way support their development. Assuming a global season and the release of their top players, Samoa would have a chance of competing with the best. They could play their home games in Auckland to reduce travel costs for all teams involved and improve access to New Zealand-based players.
They could use either Albany or Mt Smart stadium along with one home game a year in Apia. The games have a chance of attracting reasonable crowds due to the Samoan population in Auckland (around 75,000) and playing the South Africa game in Albany would also appeal to expat South Africans (more than 25,000 live in Auckland). Ideally Samoa would become a crowd favourite due to their style of play and underdog status, and would be able to attract neutral fans. Whilst it is unconventional for an international sporting team to play its home games in another country (the Pakistani cricket team is the only example that springs to mind) it could still be a successful approach, but would require support from the IRB and SANZAR.
Involvement in this competition would provide a real pathway to regular and meaningful international rugby for talented young Samoan players and dual New Zealand/Samoan players who are so often are lost to other nations or the NRL. This may impact the talent pool in New Zealand slightly but is better for rugby overall. Rugby needs to be more competitive at the international level if it wants to increase its credibility as a sport and attract a wider audience. The stronger and more financially powerful nations have to take a role in the development of smaller nations such as Samoa even when it involves making large investments or sacrificing profits. Rather than stopping at a one-off test in Apia, the NZRU should look to do more in the long-term to improve Samoan rugby.
Most of the above probably equates to wishful thinking in today's money driven world of professional sport. If all else fails, a one-off test between these two great rugby nations would be a magical showpiece for our Samoan cousins and would ensure that the next generation of Samoan kids still aspire to Samoan and All Black rugby greatness.
At the very least it's a nice way to say "thanks" to Samoan rugby for their invaluable contribution to New Zealand rugby for so many years.
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