Tew: NZ did not blank Pacific teams
Fri, 28 Jun 2013 13:50
We took a considered decision
Constraints of the international calendar are to blame for the All Blacks' absence of Test matches against neighbouring Pacific Island teams from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, according to New Zealand Rugby Union Chief Executive Steve Tew.
The All Blacks have played just three matches against the trio outside the World Cup since 2004, once against Samoa and twice against Fiji, despite massive improvements made in the threesome's ability to compete with Tier One nations.
But forward planning will not see New Zealand turn out against the island states between now and 2019.
The Samoans pulled off a shock victory over Wales last November, and Tonga's victory over Scotland saw Andy Robinson lose his job at the same time, although Fiji, with by far the biggest population of the three, are regular under-performers.
All three, however, are guaranteed exposure on European tours, but will not be running out closer to home.
In an interview with AFP ahead of this weekend's World Cup Sevens in Moscow, Tew said that while international games with the neighbours were a rarity, Pacific islander players continued to flourish in domestic New Zealand competition and Super Rugby.
"We have a very strong connection with the Pacific, not just in rugby, but across a whole range of support we give particularly Samoa and Tonga as nations, which is very deep and historical," Tew said.
"The criticism we suffer is that we haven't been and played in any of those countries for a long time and some never at all.
"But if you look at the international calendar and how we fit that in, it's not as straightforward as it would look."
Tew added: "We prefer to manifest our support in other ways, and one of them is that a number of Pacific Islanders play in New Zealand despite the fact they're not eligible for the All Blacks, which is clearly something we have to watch carefully."
Ironically, the All Blacks have long reaped the benefits from their neighbouring islands, with many players in the black shirt either born there or boasting strong family links, but since qualified for New Zealand.
"The reality is that the Pacific islanders are superb athletes and there's an economic reason that requires a lot of them to leave home, in all professions," Tew said.
The NZRU supremo stressed that his union was not alone, citing the examples of England's New Zealand-born Mako Vunipola and Wales' Toby Faletau, who both hail from Tongan parents and, in the latter case, was actually born there.
The absence of the Junior All Blacks and the New Zealand Maori from the Pacific Nations Cup, a second-tier competition grouping Fiji and Tonga with (this season) Canada, Japan and the United States, was the result of a "balanced decision", Tew told AFP.
"We took a considered decision [to withdraw] in consultation with the IRB," he said. "It's not a slight on the competition, it was a balanced decision."
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