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Pacific rugby celebrates major breakthroughs

Regional powers qualify for World Cup

Exciting times for Pacific rugby. The world champion New Zealand All Blacks will finally end their long hiatus of having never played on Samoan soil with an historic test in Apia against Manu Samoa set for July 8 next year. A Singaporebased bid which paves the way for more Pacific island players could soon join an expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016. The International Rugby Board (IRB) has relaxed its eligibility laws for Rio 2016 when rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut. And Fiji has joined Samoa and Tonga in qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

Political pressure: The news that the All Blacks were coming to Apia in 2015 was greeted with tears of joy by Samoan rugby fans worldwide. The All Blacks have played Manu Samoa only five times since 1993 and all five games were played in New Zealand. Former Manu Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger and All Black legend Bryan Williams were among the many who praised the move. Schwalger, 35, who fell out of favour with the Samoan selectors after he blew the whistle on Manu Samoa’s mismanagement at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, believes the game will see more young players get excited about their national team. Williams says the game will be special for all past Pacific players who have worn the All Black jersey. “It will be an acknowledgement of the role Samoa and Samoan players have had in New Zealand rugby,” he said. While the NZ rugby union was waiting on commercial arrangements to be finalised before announcing the date of the game, the Samoa Rugby Union had broken the news to the world. At press time, the Samoa union were waiting on world body, the IRB to guarantee the availability of Samoan players in Europe and Japan.

New Zealand prime minister John Key’s whirlwind tour of the Pacific in June this year set the wheels in motion. During his stopover in Samoa, Key met Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi where the discussion quickly turned to growing public discontent at the All Blacks continual refusal to play in the islands. The All Blacks last visited the region in the 1980s when they played a friendly match against Fiji, but they’ve never played in Samoa or Tonga.

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