Next week the All Blacks take on Samoa in a one-off Test in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
While the All Blacks should have no problem against the Samoans, the one-off Test will be a great opportunity for guys like Stephen Donald, Adam Thomson and Anthony Boric to have a decent run.
It's fantastic to see the NZRU taking Test rugby back to the provinces—it makes the All Blacks accessible to people who normally wouldn't get to see them play live.
What isn't so fantastic is the fact that the Samoan team will most likely be understrength, due to the European clubs refusing to grant the players leave.
This is a serious problem for international rugby, and has been for a long time now. The clubs pay the players salaries, and therefore feel they have the right to stop them from playing international rugby when it interferes with club duties.
We can understand that the clubs have invested in these players, but playing for your country is the ultimate honour in any sport—and should always take precedence over club rugby.
The IRB needs to stamp its authority on the matter rather than sitting back and allowing clubs to control who can and cannot play for their countries.
If clubs refuse to release their international players, they should do so at their own expense by having to pay a heavy fine to the affected country(s). A system like this would certainly make club officials think twice before stopping a player from representing their country.
There are too many Tests being played nowadays with understrength sides, including top-tier sides like England and France, who think sending a B or C side on a tour is acceptable.
Well, it's not acceptable—and it's ruining Test rugby.
Fans don't want to watch a full-strength All Blacks side play England's B team. Tests are supposed to be the toughest form of the game, but at the moment what we're getting is anything but tough.
We feel for Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, who constantly have to struggle to put together sides. If the IRB doesn't crack down on the clubs, then there's no way these countries can improve.
We hope you're listening, IRB, because something needs to be done.
*A quick update—Joe Rokocoko may be back in time to face the Wallabies in Brisbane, which is good news for the All Blacks. Rokocoko has been injured since the Super 14, and it would be great to see him back in the black jersey. His return will certainly put a lot of pressure on the under performing Sivivatu, who needs a good shake up.*
Article from the Sports Fan Attic.
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