Premiership lies in wait to sabotage islanders' tour

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The Independent Online

Pacific Islands rugby deserves all the even breaks it can get, having been chopped up for firewood by the cash-rich powerbrokers of the world game since the dawning of professionalism more than a decade ago. On the face of it, the Fiji-Samoa-Tonga triumvirate will receive the benefits of the oxygen of publicity this autumn when they combine for a tour of Europe that includes high-profile Tests against Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Indeed, their coach, the revered former Newcastle and Northampton flanker Pat Lam, has named a strikingly powerful 28-man squad for the trip, which begins with a warm-up game against Harlequins on 1 November. Some of the party - the Fijian wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca and the giant Tongan threequarter Epi Taione - have already made their impacts on the international stage. Others, like the New Zealand-based midfielder Tasesa Lavea and his fellow Samoan back Lome Fa'atau, are handily placed to do likewise during next year's World Cup in France.

However, it is far from clear how many of those playing their rugby in the Premiership will participate. Virtually a third of the squad are with top-flight English clubs, who are already resigned to losing their best British and Irish players to the autumn international fixture list and are understandably reluctant to be weakened further.

International Rugby Board regulations make it perilous for clubs to prevent release, but there is a long and depressing history of islanders failing to make themselves available for their countries during the northern hemisphere season. Many were signed on the understanding they would not play Test rugby between September and May.

Lam has named the London Irish backs - the Samoan pair of Sailosi Tagicakibau and Seilala Mapusua - while Worcester are being asked to donate two Tongan front-rowers in Aleki Lutui and Tevita Taumoepeau. Bath will lose their Tongan prop Taufa'ao Felise; Wasps will be stripped of the Samoan back-five forward Daniel Leo; Leicester will lose the powerful back-rower Henry Tuilagi. Saracens' Fijians, the scrum-half Mosese Rauluni and the lock Simon Raiwalui, are in the squad.

A spokesman for London Irish said the club was aware that Tagicakibau and Mapusua were wanted by Lam. "Whether they want to join the tour is a matter for them," he added.

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