IRB consider amnesty offer for clubs who keep players away from international duty


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The Independent Online

The International Rugby Board may grant an amnesty to European clubs who offer foreign players incentives not to represent their countries in Test matches in exchange for guarantees that such practices will stop immediately. The governing body, determined to take action following last week's revelations in The Independent that Fiji had been unable to field their strongest team at last year's World Cup and had again been weakened for their current tour of the northern hemisphere, will address the issue in the coming weeks.

After watching his team ship more than 50 points at Twickenham on Saturday, the Fijian head coach Inoke Male expressed his frustration at the absence of a fistful of France-based players including the Racing Métro forwards Jone Qovu and Sakiusa Matadigo, the Stade Français wing Waisea Nayacalevu and the Clermont Auvergne back Napolioni Nalaga. The Fijian union has lodged a formal complaint with the French Rugby Federation in respect of Qovu and although Jacky Lorenzetti, the Racing Métro owner, insisted at the weekend that his club had done nothing wrong, the FFR has decreed that the high-calibre lock cannot play for his club until the international window closes early next month.

"It is very difficult for us when we cannot pick our best talent," said Male, who had just seen his team suffer a record defeat at the hands of England. "We are happy that this problem has now been raised in public and we need the IRB to do something about it. We are confident this will now happen."

Male would like to see other things happen before the next World Cup, which will be played in England in the autumn of 2015. Aware that Argentina, another country with an amateur domestic base and frequently unable to field its strongest line-up because European club contracts dictate otherwise, had just recorded a famous victory over Wales in Cardiff, the coach said a more sympathetic approach to fixture scheduling would give his nation the chance of achieving something similar.

"What we need is more frequent exposure to international rugby at the top level," he said. "If the tier one teams gave us more matches, we would develop as quickly as Argentina are developing now they are involved in the Rugby Championship (the recently expanded annual southern hemisphere tournament featuring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa). I am convinced we would be competitive if teams like England agreed to play us every year, sometimes in Fiji."

England have not played in the South Seas since 1991, when Will Carling's side won 28-12 after leading by just three points at the interval. A few weeks later, two-thirds of that red-rose side reached the World Cup final and lost narrowly to Australia.

According to reports in New Zealand, who have never played a Test in the islands despite the All Blacks' geographical proximity, leading figures in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are actively discussing the formation of a Pacific-based players' union in an effort to improve and sustain South Seas competitiveness at Test level.

Deacon Manu, the Wales-based prop who captained Fiji at Twickenham two days ago, told the New Zealand Herald: "I'm lucky that the people in Llanelli understand the importance and pride of playing for your country, but further investigations need to be made by the IRB into what some clubs are doing. I don't want to threaten other clubs because I understand their predicament, but we need a better deal. Rugby tends to be controlled by half a dozen countries, but they could be faced with some sort of revolution if the status quo remains."

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The Australia coach Robbie Deans claimed his side paid the price for "inaccuracies" after losing 33-6 to France in Paris.

"It was a very complete performance from the French, they were too good for us," said Deans, whose team face England at Twickenham on Saturday. "They grew in confidence. We opened the door in some way with our inaccuracies. We always figured they were going to come out with a lot of intensity."

The Australia lock and captain Nathan Sharpe added: "Our intensity was good but it was our execution that let us down."

The France coach, Philippe Saint-André, whose side were thrashed 59-16 by Australia two years ago, said the fear of another humiliation by a southern hemisphere nation was a factor in their victory.

"When we're scared we do great things," Saint André said. "It's a true achievement, especially when you look at the southern nations' performances."