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Former Samoa lock calls for Pacific Island nations to boycott World Cup

Daniel Leo furious over plans to exclude Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from Nations League

Daniel Leo in action for Samoa against South Africa during the 2011 World Cup in Auckland. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty

The Pacific Island nations should boycott the World Cup if plans to exclude Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from the 12-team Nations League are ratified by rugby’s governing body.

That’s the opinion of Daniel Leo, the former Samoa lock and current player welfare manager for Pacific players based in Europe.

“I’d find it hard to believe that Pacific Island teams will turn up for The World Cup knowing that we are being screwed over,” Leo told The Irish Times.

“If I was in the Pacific Island unions now I would very strongly be considering the next course of action if this is the way we are going to be treated.”

World Rugby have been branded “out of touch” by Johnny Sexton regarding player welfare surrounding the proposed Nations League, which All Blacks captain Kieran Read calls a “money-driven weakened competition”.

The exclusion of traditional rugby nations, like Fiji and Georgia, with no promotion or relegation for 12 years is a stance World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot remains is keen to resist, although the former Argentina scrumhalf concedes that other stakeholders in the decision-making process are pushing to ring fence the competition.

“Imagine how sad it would be for rugby, for the world game to become ‘Our pacific islanders against your pacific islanders?’” said Leo.

“England’s Tongans and Samoans against France’s Fijians. Because that’s what the game will become.

“I know there is a huge chunk of support among Pacific Islanders players, even those who play for other nations. That’s where our power lies. The sport has been built on Pacific Island muscle since it went professional. It makes you think, as a player, what leverage do we have? The only leverage we really have is not to play.

“I hope it is not too late to be reversed, especially after all the animosity towards the proposal in the last 24 hours since the plan was leaked. You got to hope common sense will prevail.

“It’s certainly a cross roads for the future of rugby as a sport,” continued Leo, who played in New Zealand, Australia, England and France during a 12-year professional career.

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[/CROSSHEAD]“I was a big guy on a rugby field and was always taught you look after the little guys. You look after your opposition too. After the game you shake their hand and look after them, you have a beer with them.

“That all goes out the window if it all becomes about the money.

“Look, you don’t play for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga for money. You do play for exposure. I played for Samoa because I knew I was guaranteed to play against England, Scotland, Ireland. It was my shop window to get a better club contract.

“We are professionals and we are not getting paid so it has to be about promoting your career, playing with your country yes, but getting a good club contract so you can provide for your family.

“These plans incentivise players not to play for their country. Even if they do come up with a second tier competition none of the players want to stay around for that. Especially if there is no scope for moving up. That would kill the international game on the Pacific Islands.”

The USA, despite being ranked 13th in current world rankings, are set to be added to the Nations League ahead of ninth-ranked Fiji.

“The writing has been on the wall about the priorities and values of the game of rugby, Pacific Islanders have known that for decades. World Rugby are not even trying to hide it anymore. This puts it out there for all to see. We know the game of rugby has sold its soul.”