'It's an uneven playing field' - eligibility, funding issues overshadow build-up to Pacific rugby double-header

World Rugby was forced to front up at a promotional event for the Auckland double-header involving Fiji, Samoa and Tonga and a New Zealand Heartland XV team as funding and player availability issues overshadow the build-up to the Eden Park event.

Two weeks after a TVNZ Sunday story highlighted the struggles Samoa Rugby faced with players even having to pay their own way just to be in camp.

World Rugby's high-performance general manager was in town revealing a $39 million investment plan to boost Pacific rugby.

“We're here. we're working in partnership with the groups, we're listening to those people what the challenges are and we're trying to make change,” Peter Horne said.

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson saying he had spoken to Horne today and that World Rugby “do their best”.

“They're really supportive with what we're trying to do and they understand the landscape we work in,” he said.

1 NEWS is able to reveal Tonga is the latest to be stripped of a genuine World Cup star.

One of Ikali Tahi's props was offered an extra 100,000 Euros to play for his French club in the month of September.

“We've had a number of players who should be here that aren't here, through some reason or another,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said.

"From a coach’s point of view, you want your best players, if you’re playing against good opposition with one hand tied behind your back it’s an uneven playing field."

“Is it fair? Possibly not, but is it the reality at the moment? Yes,” Aayden Clarke of the Pacific Rugby Players said.

Fiji coach John McKee may have a solution having been able to secure all of his stars including million-dollar former NRL star Semi Radradra.

“For me personally travelling up to Europe and not just meeting with the players but meeting with the clubs and building good relationships with the clubs and that's been really beneficial to us because we haven't had any problems with release of players,” McKee said.

For now that seems like the only way, with World Rugby regulations not able to guarantee the World Cup is indeed the pinnacle, at least for the Pacific.

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World Cups squads from Pacific nations are in NZ for what’s supposed to be a celebration of rugby in their region. Source: 1 NEWS