Samoa are ‘bankrupt’ but Test v Scotland will go ahead

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Murrayfield chiefs are confident Saturday’s opening autumn Test against Samoa will go ahead as planned despite the Samoan Rugby Union being declared “bankrupt” yesterday.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegao, the Samoan prime minister and chairman of the rugby union, has asked the public to donate money to keep the sport alive in the island nation.

Scotland's Sean Maitland in action against Samoa during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Jane Barlow

Scotland's Sean Maitland in action against Samoa during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Jane Barlow

Samoa are also due to play Romania and England this month and the Rugby Football Union is believed to be willing to make a “goodwill payment” of £75,000 to the islanders but will not share gate money. The RFU agreed to pay Fiji £75,000 last year when they visited Twickenham and will extend the same gesture to Samoa ahead of the match on 25 November.

Scottish Rugby won’t follow the English lead, with a spokesman insisting that they would fulfil the conditions of their agreement, effectively paying for the Samoans’ travel and accommodation, while declining to add any extras.

“We have a good relationship with Samoa after travelling down there in 2012 and we have always been supportive of them,” said the spokesman.

Suggestions that one or both matches at BT Murrayfield and Twickenham might be cancelled due to the Samoans’ inability to access funds to insure their players, are wide of the mark. Tier 2 nations have their international insurance underwritten by World Rugby and the Scottish Rugby spokesman was adamant that the game would go ahead.

The whole issue of tier 1 versus tier 2 remuneration is thrown into sharp focus when a side such as Samoa come up against England, the wealthiest union in the world.

Samoan players are said to be expecting £650 for playing against England while the home team players will likely walk away with £22,000 for their afternoon’s work.

Manu Tuilagi, who was born in Samoa, and Mako Vunipola, born in New Zealand and raised in Wales by Tongan parents, are reportedly urging their England team-mates to dig into their own pockets to help the

visitors.

Malielegao announced that the Samoan union was “insolvent” due to being unable to “pay off our debts with the banks” or fund player wages.

However, World Rugby has yet to receive official notification of bankruptcy beyond the declaration made

by Malielegao at a press

conference.

The governing body released a statement which said: “World Rugby is committed to assisting the Samoa Rugby Union’s high-performance programme and increased its direct and indirect union investment to £1.5 million in 2017.

“Specifically for the November window, this support package includes insurance cover under Regulation 9, underwriting assembly costs for a pre-tour camp, flights to and from Europe and participation in the Americas Pacific Challenge, a preparation and development tournament.”

Critics of the existing system believe that Samoa should be given a portion of matchday revenues at Twickenham due to England’s failure to tour the Pacific Islands, denying the nations there the chance to raise revenue themselves.

Samoan players have been ever-present in professional club rugby across Europe, yet it is argued that the country that produces them sees little in return. The RFU insists it has been tied to the previously agreed upon international fixture schedule and will tour the Pacific Islands as part of the new global season that comes into effect in 2021.

Yesterday’s news did not prevent the Samoans from releasing their squad for Saturday’s match against Scotland which, as usual, relies heavily on New Zealand-based players.

The team is captained by Bristol lock Chris Vui, who plays alongside North Harbour debutant Josh Tyrell. Chiefs full-back Tim Nanai-Williams has been pushed into the playmaker’s role for the first time at Test level alongside scrum-half Pele Cowley, who gets a rare start in the absence of the injured Kahn Fotuali’i.

Cardiff’s centre Rey Lee-Lo, who led Scotland a merry dance in Newcastle during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, starts in the No 12 shirt, with veteran David Lemi on the wing.

Donald Brighouse, a former New Zealand Under-20 prop, makes his debut at tighthead despite being more comfortable in the No 1 shirt.

More recognisable names crop up in the back row of the scrum where Jack Lam, cousin of Pat, moves to No 8 to make way for Sale Sharks’ TJ Ioane to play at openside flanker.