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Players forced to abandon home teams

Tuesday 12 May 2015 | Published in Regional


PACIFIC – Leading European clubs are pres­surising their Pacific island players to retire from international rugby duties four months out from the World Cup, it has been claimed.

Dan Leo, the London Irish lock, believes that Samoa could lose up to a third of its squad with clubs offering incentivised contracts to players who turn their backs on their countries.

Those who opt to represent Samoa, Fiji or Tonga in the World Cup potentially face losing 40 per cent of their salaries.

Leo, 32, is speaking from personal experience.

“There’s no hints or beating around the bush, they come out and say ‘stop playing for your country’.”

Leo, who is leaving Irish at the end of the season, said. “I have not made a decision about whether I will be at the World Cup because I am struggling to find a club that will pay me during the tournament. If I want to play professionally next year, I may have to forfeit ­playing at the World Cup. It is standard practice. ”

Leo’s case is not unique. He says Census Johnston, the Samoan tighthead prop, recently signed a new contract with Toulouse on the condition that he retire from international duty.

A lot more players are in the same boat, according to Leo, who led the Samoa players’ protests against their own union last November.

“Almost every Pacific island player I have spoken to has had pressure put on them to retire from international rugby,” Leo said. “If everyone could speak as openly as I do, they would say the same thing. Everyone is getting those pressures put on them.

“When they are negotiating a deal with the clubs, they will say ‘we will give you this bit more if you don’t play for your country’.

“Census is our most experienced player and by far our best tighthead. So if you take out a player like him, Paul Williams and myself, who are three guys coming out of contract, that’s a massive leadership drain on the squad. How do you replace that?

“That’s a very real thing for our management to deal with, hence they have named a 58-man training squad for the World Cup. Out of those 58, 12 or 13 will have their contracts coming up. If they decide to stay at their clubs then we lose a third of our World Cup squad.”

World Rugby’s Regulation Nine states that: “The future development and extension of the sport at all levels and throughout the world would be threatened if a union was not able to select and have available the players it requires.”

Clubs would argue that they have done nothing wrong as retiring players are making an individual decision, but it would certainly seem in contravention of World Rugby’s demand of “compliance with not only the letter of the regulation, but also its spirit”, The Telegraph’s Daniel Schofield reports.

Premiership clubs will be compensated for the loss of their England players during the World Cup, but not for their foreign internationals.

Leo has a measure of sympathy for them and says it’s the responsibility of World Rugby to find a solution.

“I can see it from the clubs’ point of view that they don’t want to be paying players who aren’t going to be around but World Rugby will be making a huge amount of money from the World Cup so they should be stepping in there to secure the release from the clubs.”

A World Rugby spokesman said: “While it would be inappropriate to comment on any allegations without possession of the facts, World Rugby works tirelessly with its unions to ensure that the spirit of regulation nine and the integrity of the international game is preserved.”

The news comes just as Samoa’s players were making real progress in a long-running struggle with their own union having threatened to boycott their match against England last November.

The union’s chief executive and head of performance have been replaced and a collective bargaining agreement, which would guarantee minimum levels of pay and facilities, is close to being formalised.

At the previous World Cup, Samoa turned up to training sessions without practice balls.

“For so long, it has been about ­sorting out our own backyard. No one was going to take us seriously until we did that,” Leo said.

“But we are fighting this battle against our own union and we don’t have the resources to fight against the clubs as well.”