IRB rejects claim that it banned Samoan centre


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The Independent Online

Samoa may be a small rugby nation, but it makes an awful lot of noise – especially when the brilliant centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu is in the thick of things.

Fuimaono-Sapolu, who left Gloucester less than fortnight ago and is in the running to play for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham in 10 days' time, has been dropped from his national squad, much to his disgust. What is more, the new Test coach, Stephen Betham, is accusing the authorities of forcing his hand.

"The International Rugby Board has ruled against Eliota playing in IRB-run tournaments," Betham said yesterday. "It was made known in a letter."

Immediately, the IRB dismissed the allegation. "The player is not ineligible for, or banned from, any tournament," said a spokesman for the sport's supreme governing body. "The comments are disappointing and untrue."

As is his wont, Fuimaono-Sapolu reacted via Twitter (he is just about the only sportsman capable of matching the QPR footballer Joey Barton for controversy in this medium). "Word is, once again, someone's tampering with my international career," he pronounced.

If that response was a lot less inflammatory than some of his recent communications – the Samoan landed himself in all sorts of trouble at last year's World Cup by issuing a series of extraordinary tweets, one of which likened his country's treatment at the hands of the tournament fixture schedulers to slavery and apartheid – it was not well received in the corridors of power.

Surprisingly, a second experienced Samoan campaigner, the captain Mahonri Schwalger, was also dumped. Schwalger was fiercely critical of the team's management at the global gathering in New Zealand. "I knew it would cost me my international career," he remarked, on hearing the news.

Scotland, who face the Samoans in Apia next month, will take five uncapped players to Australia and the South Seas: the eye-catching Edinburgh backs Tom Brown and Tim Visser, the Glasgow prop Ryan Grant and two of his fellow forwards at Firhill, the lock Tom Ryder and the flanker Rob Harley. Andy Robinson, the coach, has decided to rest the 33-year-old loosehead prop Allan Jacobsen.

Wales, meanwhile, have stemmed the tide of big-name players crossing the water to France, at least for the moment. The Six Nations wing Alex Cuthbert yesterday agreed a contract extension with Cardiff Blues.