Rugby's eligibility rules keeping Pacific nations 'poor', says player advocate

Changing rugby's eligibility rules to allow those who can represent more than one country to switch who they play for internationally is a "no brainer", says former Manu Samoa player Dan Leo.

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Dan Leo of the Pacific Players Welfare League says European teams are benefiting from Pacific players at the detriment of their home countries. Source: Sunday

He also says richer tier one nations need to "release their grip" on the game if rugby is to grow globally.

Speaking to TVNZ’s SUNDAY show from the UK, Leo, from the Pacific Players Welfare League, says the current laws are unfair on Pacific nations who are unable to select players once they have represented another country.

There are numerous examples of talented young players representing a major nation only once or twice, seeing them lost to Fiji, Samoa or Tonga for the rest of their careers.

Leo says that regulation must be changed.

"For me that’s a no brainer. It’s something that wouldn’t cost anything to change," he says.

"It would be an easy way to help smaller nations and smaller populations on less resources, and it’s something that wouldn’t break World Rugby’s bank too."

Leo says changing the eligibility rules would be an effective way of investing in Southern Hemisphere rugby without spending too much money on Pacific teams.

"This is a non-monetary way that we could invest into teams, not just the Pacific Islands, other tier two nations as well would hugely benefit from getting some of their players back who may have been capped for other countries."

Leo says Six Nations teams hold a lot of financial power over the game and are luring players to Europe with the promise of large pay packets.

Some of those players then go on to represent the likes of England and France internationally, once they have complied with residency regulations.

"That’s the issue with the current eligibility laws, is that you make that decision based not on your loyalty necessarily to a jumper, but on your economic situation.

"And not just that of you personally but in a lot of Pacific Islanders’ case that of your family.

"And the reality of the sport at the moment is that if I was to play for the All Blacks, or for England, or for Ireland, I’ll make a heck of a lot more than if I play for Samoa or Fiji."

Without financial incentive for players to play professionally at home the game will struggle to grow, his says.

"That’s only going to change if some of these richer nations release their grip on the financing of the game and get behind this policy change."

This weekend on TVNZ’s SUNDAY show, John Campbell goes inside the Manu Samoa camp as they prepare for the Rugby World Cup, and investigates the impact professional rugby and the big money on offer in Europe is having on the Pacific.