Brive and Fiji Partnership Biggest Threat to Test Rugby Since Going Pro?

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BRIVE, FRANCE – Ladies and Gentlemen, forget the Springboks bore game, don’t worry about the loss of New Zealand players overseas, don’t even panic about the growing pains of USA Rugby, if you read no other article this week (or indeed this year), I implore you to make sure it is this one. A recent article published15166d on a renown rugby site reports that Brive (Top 14, average side) have just received permission from educational authorities to start an academy… in Fiji. That’s right Brive et Fiji.

Brive Rugby Director Nicolas Godignon intends for the academy to offer specialised training and French language classes, and ultimately prepare young players to secure professional contracts in France (yes, you read that correctly).

There are very much two sides to this story. The first is the actual and almost guaranteed personal benefits to the 25 young Fijian players selected. They will have guaranteed high-class training and coaching from personally selected professional rugby coaches, channelling their God-given and very Fijian skills into a professional atmosphere from a young age. They will live every young Fijian boy’s dream, of being in a professional environment with a huge chance at making it in the sport they idolize, following in the footsteps of great Fijian players such as Bobo, Caucaunibuca, Little, Qera,
Serevi and Ryder
. For that façade of innocence we salute you Brive, your medal is in the post. They will potentially earn vast amounts of money, a lot of which will go towards supporting their family back home, a very good thing indeed, and something that nobody would begrudge them. However it is more the motives of Brive that worry me as opposed to the kind-heartedness and family orientated nature of the 25 players selected.

It is the sinister undercurrents of this alleged ‘feel good story’ that truly scare me. Christophe Tolofua and Jocelino Suta, two names that highlight just how bad things are about to get for Fijian rugby.Tolofua debuted for France in 2012 against Argentina. Suta, debuted against the Wallabies in the same year. Suta grew up and spent most of his life in Vanuatu and New Caledonia (in the Soth Pacific, next to Fiji!). Tolofua is originally from Wallis and Futuna (in the South Pacific, next to Tonga!). So just to clarify, France have a history of taking Pacific Island players and turning them into thei own Bleu-clad wrecking balls, fit and ready to serve for La Republique, NOT for their home or related home nations.

With this academy in place, Brive will have a conveyor belt of Fijian talent from which they can pick and choose the players they want toplay for them. Once they have played for Brive theyimages are one step away from playing for France if they show the potential. Once they have been offered French Euros, who is to blame them wishing to switch and play for their adopted nation that ultimately bought their services as opposed to their home nation. Money can obscure many things, even heritage. And are they to blame really? No, given the opportunity to provide for their families, a famous trait in Pacific Island rugby players, not
one of these players will turn down an offer to play in France.There is no doubt that the Fijian rugby union are not able to provide the money to maintain their players at a club level in Fiji, but surely the IRB are willing to step in and insure that the Fijian players are at least subsidized if they wish to play for their home nation? Perhaps a set player payment scheme for all international teams?

And what will this do to young French players? Switch on the television as a budding young rugby player in France and see that your country would rather make wholesale importations of foreign talent (and lets face facts, more skilful players) than pick from within their own borders. The flakiness that has become the very quintessence of French rugby may well turn into a deep seated malaise within their borders as disaffected young rugby players decide not to pursue the sport because of their constant overlooking in the face of the Fijian imports (and its hardly the Fijians fault!).

It would appear congratulations are in order to the French Federation de Rugby for what could potentially be the utter annihilation of Fijian rugby. Your medal is in the post, may I suggest a small plaque be placed at the Stade de France, commending Brive for their part in this disgusting affair.

And just to head off the inevitable arguments about the All Blacks poaching players, and several English players having a passport change. The New Zealand national sides more often than not feature players who whilst they may originate from another nation, have been in New Zealand from a very young age, it don’t make it right, but it gives them a level of legitimacy after all Sitiveni Sivivatu went to one of the mo3950ast prestigious schools in New Zealand. In some cases the parents of the player in question moved there when the player was but a mere child, his rugby talents still unknown (hardly their fault no?). As for the case of Manu Tuilagi playing for England, the same argument can be raised. Brought through the English school system from a young age, not thrown into a foreign institution in his homeland, solely so he could go and play rugby for that academy’s country of origin. Maybe it is the blatant bare faced greed of the French in founding this academy that offends, sort of a we can’t produce players who are consistently great, so lets see if one of our domestic sides can produce them with this new scheme, and then we can slot them into our structures and allow their natural talent to shine.

I cannot quite begin to convey the rage I feel in writing this article. I genuinely believe that Fiji or Samoa would be regular, and genuine, World Cup contenders by now if they had even HALF the funds available to some of the major international sides, and if their French masters would release their players to play for their clubs (Sireli Bobo allegedly being paid to miss the 2011 World Cup by Racing Metro!). The long-term damage this could do to smaller nations is too horrific to imagine. What if the French set-up an academy in Georgia in order to divert high class forward talent (such as Mamuka Gorgodze or Davit Zirakashvili) into their national jersey? The precedent being set is one that could see the rise of the major rugby nations and the utter destruction of the smaller ones.

Benito Masilevu 12.14.09 PMThe only hope is that current Brive players Sisa Koyamaibole, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Benito Masilevu, Malakai Radikadike and Venione Voretamaya, will drum their heritage into any and all young Fijian players who come to Brive (and indeed any other French based Fijian players) and make them play for Fiji. This is a country that is now KNOWN as the Flying Fijians how good do you have to be to be known by your nickname? Ask the All Blacks maybe?

Congratulations, again, to Brive, you are quite literally playing both Jekyll and Hyde roles. With one hand you allow young Fijian players to potentially earn considerable amounts of money whilst playing high-level rugby, and with the other you set in motion a chain of events that has the potential to bring one of the most historic rugby nations to its knees. I really hope it was a fair trade……

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About Jamie Loyd 30 Articles
Jamie Loyd hails from London but has traveled the globe playing, watching and covering rugby - especially Rugby League. He's quick-witted, smart and has exceptional elbows.