Little hope of a Jason Taumalolo moment while self-interest rules World Rugby


Don’t get your hopes up of rugby coming up with a Jason Taumalolo moment when it votes on the vexed player-eligibility issue this month.

It would be lovely to be proven wrong, but when the World Rugby council members ponder whether to allow players to change Test teams during their career – permitting former Wallabies and All Blacks to represent the Pacific Islands – doing the right thing is going to clash with self-interest.

The proposal needs 75 per cent of the 52 World Rugby council members to say yes. At first glance, this doesn’t appear too onerous but the hurdles become apparent when you look at how the council is formed.

In short, the “bigger” nations get more votes. For example, Italy and Scotland each have three members on the council, by virtue of their inclusion in the Six Nations. Samoa get one, as do Fiji. Tonga aren’t represented directly at all.

You can see where this is going. The “no” vote only needs 14 supporters to scupper the proposal. For argument’s sake, let’s say Scotland, Italy and Ireland – the three countries whom the finger is sometimes pointed at when it comes to eligibility – all say no. That’s nine votes. Argentina (three votes) might do likewise, given how they are a “homegrown” Test nation, while Sudamerica Rugby might agree with Argentina and use their two votes to reject the proposal. Already, that’s the 14 votes needed to make sure the likes of former All Black Charles Piutau can’t simply play for Tonga at the next World Cup.

Perhaps I’m doing these nations a disservice. Perhaps they saw the joyous scenes in Auckland at the Rugby League World Cup – when Tongans filled the stadia to celebrate Taumalolo – and have decided rugby needs something similar.

Jason Taumalolo has helped Tonga become an international rugby league force.

Jason Taumalolo has helped Tonga become an international rugby league force.Credit:NRL Photos

However, with self-interest an unbackable favourite in most races, it is very hard to see what’s in it for them in supporting a change that would empower the Pacific Island teams. A fully weaponised Samoa or Tonga (I exclude Fiji because I think their program is doing fine as it is) would clearly present a danger to the middle tier of world rugby, threatening their ranking positions and all the prestige and commercial benefits that follow.

It is a frustration for fans in this part of the world, but put their positions in context. In the north, the popular view remains that the All Blacks and Wallabies already do very well from their proximity to the Pacific Islands, so voting to permit players to jump between nations would be akin to exposing themselves to a sort of double jeopardy. They could lose to the same players twice – once against the All Blacks/Wallabies, and again to Tonga and Samoa.

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