SAMOA – Samoa’s Rugby World Cup hopes face another major hit after World Rugby delayed their upcoming qualifiers.
The Manu were scheduled to face Spain or Portugal in a home and away playoff next month for a place at next year’s tournament.
But the proposed fixtures will now take place in July or August, while the governing body investigates an eligibility scandal engulfing European teams.
Belgium and Romania are accused of fielding ineligible players in earlier qualifying rounds, while Belgium’s win over Spain in March was marred by a controversial performance by the Romanian referee, with the shock result sealing Romania’s spot in Japan next year.
Director of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, Daniel Leo, said Samoa was not consulted about the change of date and now face not being able to pick their best players.
The bulk of the Manu Samoa squad is based in Europe and will be preparing for the upcoming season with their club sides in July and August.
“Either they’re going to have to potentially put their contracts on the line to be able to play for Samoa, which everyone wants to do,” he said.
“It’s our nation of birth and heritage and we want to be at the World Cup but the reality is you’ve got families to feed as well so your contracts and your club is going to be your first priority.
“It puts that decision making process squarely on the shoulders of the players which shouldn’t be the case.”
Leo has been contacted by some disgruntled Samoan players and said while World Rugby’s regulations do require clubs to release players for World Cup qualifying matches in theory the reality faced by Pacific players is very different.
“There will be pressure on these guys, regardless of whether they’re legally allowed to be released for those games,” he said.
“There will be pressure on them by clubs to stay because it only takes one wrong look from your coach to know that you’re treading on thin ice and a lot of players won’t want to put themselves into that position.”
Leo said the lack of consultation from World Rugby was not good enough.
“There was no announcement around this, it was just someone happened to notice on the World Rugby website that the schedules for those matches had been changed, so there was no announcements or anything so that in itself is quite hard to deal with,” he said.
“You’d expect any organisation would do their due process of actually announcing big changes like that and the fact that they’ve tried to go through the backdoor and hope that no one would notice it, again it’s not rugby.”
“The players are communicated to last and that’s definitely been an issue for Pacific rugby is actually that communication process with the players but this isn’t just a Pacific rugby union thing now, this is actually a World Rugby issue and it’s not good enough,” he said.
“The players deserve to be kept in light. I can’t remember when that game was played but this has been dragging on for months now and it’s not good enough for a union that’s cash-strapped and lacking resources but we expect better of World Rugby who has got the resources to expect better of.”
A similar eligibility scandal arose in the Tahiti versus Cook Islands match last year, where the result was overturned and Tahiti disqualified.
Leo believes the same standard should apply in Europe, so as not to disadvantage Samoa, who have done nothing wrong.
“The fact that they’re talking about replaying the match between Spain and Belgium is a farce because if they’re going to replay that match in theory and according to precedent they should replay the Cook Islands versus Tahiti match,” he said.
“It reeks of double standards and now it’s having that knock-on effect where Samoa might not be able to put forward their best team for the repechage playoff against whoever.”
World Rugby is expected to announce its decision regarding the European qualifying debacle by the end of this week.