No team is an island as Fiji are left at sixes and sevens
Despite playing for the last five years with Southland in New Zealand, Talemaioga only ever wanted to represent Fiji. “I was born and raised in Fiji and played age group for Fiji until I moved to New Zealand. I just love to play for my country.”
But he does concede that many young Fijian players grow up dreaming of playing for the All Blacks, and a host of players, notably wingers such as Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, duly have done so.
Nor is it just New Zealand and the All Blacks who cherry pick Fijian players. “There are several players not available to us for this tour because they want to play for other countries,” according to Male, after New Zealand-born Mako Vunipola, the son of Tongan international Fe’ao Vunipola, was called up to the English squad.
“Young players now want to pursue options for other countries rather than coming on tour which is not a good sign. We have got a lot of problems caused by European countries, especially France and England, who have taken some of our players through their academies when they were young. England and France have got a lot of players to pick from already and, as a small country, for our players to be poached from us is not acceptable.
“There is one very talented player we wanted to select who went to an English academy and he is now 16 years old and has opted to play for England. It is very obvious what is happening. If you go to the (Fijian) secondary school championships you will see scouts from Australia, New Zealand and England trying to find your players who want to go overseas.They are taking our young players like vultures.”
“I will not tell you the specific players but I know of players who get invited to the UK when they are 14,” Male told the Times a couple of weeks ago. “Now as 17-year-olds they are opting to play for England. That means everybody here who is young wants to play for England. As a good player that’s what they choose and we respect that but it is mainly because of the money. That’s what happened when boys are given the option. We need the IRB to stop this (three-year eligibility) rule or change it.”
So, not much to contend with then. Just the rival attraction of the sevens game, plus the drain of their leading lights to the All Blacks and a largely expatriate player base scattered to all corners of the world who are often not released to play for Fiji or are themselves disinclined to.
Not to mention richer countries now talent scouting their islands. No wonder the Flying Fijians are left with a shell of a side from a group of islands perhaps second only to Samoa for producing the most natural rugby talent per head of population on the planet.