All Blacks have no room for Pacific tests

BY TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 07:10 25/11/2012
Tonga vs All Blacks
Fairfax NZ

THING OF THE PAST?: Ma'a Nonu in action against Tonga at the RWC.

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Sadly it appears the All Blacks' appetite to play Samoa, Tonga or Fiji outside of a World Cup is at a low ebb.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew confirmed this week the prospects of tests against any of the Pacific Island nations was unlikely for the next seven years.

"The calendar is obviously full and there are only certain windows when the island countries would get their best players back from Europe and elsewhere. The options for timing anything extra are severely limited," Tew said.

But Samoa's stirring 26-19 win over Wales at Millennium Stadium has brought the issue to light in the same week the All Blacks arrived in Cardiff.

Samoa's win was further evidence Pacific nations are capable of competing with tier-one countries under the new IRB's Future Tours schedule, which requires European clubs to release players for test duties.

The schedule, which is in place through to 2019, is a major boost for Pacific rugby with Scotland playing away to Fiji and Samoa this year, and Wales set to visit the islands in 2017.

There is also provision for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to tour Europe annually. This month has seen an unprecedented number of matches, with Samoa playing tests against France and Wales, Fiji playing England and the Ireland Wolfhounds, and Tonga playing Scotland and Italy.

But there appear to be no IRB provisions for any of the Pacific teams to play the All Blacks, who have played just three tests against them, one against Samoa and two against Fiji, since 2004.

One-off tests outside the IRB window are largely a waste of time competitively and commercially with the All Blacks 101-14 scoreline against Samoa in New Plymouth in 2008 a prime example.

One wonders, though, why the IRB could not schedule a home and away June series between the sides?

The IRB did not return calls on the issue, but Tew railed against the suggestion the lack of contact was a poor reflection on the NZRU.

"We don't like perceptions that are not a fair reflection of the commitment we've made," he said. "There are other ways that we can support rugby in the Pacific Islands. One is we continue to select their players in Super Rugby despite the fact they are ineligible for All Blacks selection.

"That assists some of their players stay closer to home and be eligible for and easily available for the islands.

"We certainly don't play any of the games that allegedly are played by some of the clubs in Europe."

Tew also took exception to the suggestion the All Blacks were not doing enough to help develop the world game.

"One thing that's forgotten in this debate is we were very strong supporters of getting Argentina into the Rugby Championship," he said. "That took a lot of arranging and we're now seeing the benefits of that. But we can't fit everything that needs to be done into our diary.

"We have a very clear conscience in terms of our commitment to island rugby. We know there's a strong desire for the All Blacks to play there and, look, at some point we may well but it's just very hard right now to know how we could fit that in and realistically make it work commercially.

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"While we are committed to supporting the islands our first responsibility is to New Zealand rugby."

- Sunday News

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