THE SRU’s management was embroiled in accusations of drunkenness and misconduct during last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. I am, of course, referring to the Samoan Rugby Union.
A report by the World Cup captain Mahonri Schwalger, a hooker for the Waikato Chiefs Super 15 franchise, was sent to the prime minister of the country, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who also doubles up as the chairman of the SRU. In it the national captain maintained that the Samoan officials were highly unprofessional, disappeared for days on end during drinking binges and treated the entire tournament as a holiday.
Instead of kick-starting the reforms that Schwalger insists are necessary, they shot the messenger instead. The World Cup captain was a notable absentee when the Samoan squad for the Pacific Nations Cup was released and the same players are in the frame for the match against Scotland in Apia on Saturday.
Samoa coach Stephen Betham insisted that the 33-year-old missed out because of his age but Schwalger, who has been in fine form in the Super 15 with the high-flying Chiefs this season, believed it was because he was too outspoken. “Age means nothing,” he said in response. “Selection should be based on performance.”
The hooker has said all along that he was all too aware that his report would cost him his place in the Samoan squad but argued that it was a sacrifice he was prepared to make for the overall good of Samoan rugby.
Schwalger also stated in a recent interview with a New Zealand paper that he had the backing of senior players such as Leicester favourite Alex Tuilagi and former Gloucester midfielder Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu.
Neither man appears in the latest Samoan squad and, in the case of the outspoken Fuimaono-Sapolu who accused Nigel Owens of “racism” after the Welshman refereed Samoa’s 13-5 defeat by South Africa, the International Rugby Board found themselves being dragged into the sorry mess.
Betham argued that he has been told from above not to pick the opinionated centre and hinted that the directive had come from the IRB’s offices in Dublin, which never seemed likely. The game’s governing body duly released a firm and full denial at which point Betham changed his tune a little.
“Eliota and his family have been saying quite a lot and I don’t think it would work even if I wanted to bring them back in,” said the coach. “I don’t think it will work after the things that were said to me.”
Schwalger now sees the Samoan prime minister (and SRU chairman) as the prime obstacle in the way of root and branch reform of the Samoan union so the former skipper has his sights set on the man at the top.
“If you’re going to make changes you’ve got to make sure the top is also changed – the chairman [Malielegaoi],” said the former Samoan skipper. “It’s pretty disappointing because this must be the only country that has a prime minister involved in running the sport.
“So there are battles we can’t win, but as long as we get it out there and hopefully the IRB can step in and help out. It is pretty sad to see our rugby being controlled by these guys who are pretty arrogant and not worried about what is best for the future of Samoan rugby. I’m not going to stop. I’m going to still try my best to get rid of these guys. I’m not going to walk away.”
It is an unedifying sight for Samoan rugby but no one inside the Scottish camp will complain too loudly at the absence of star names like Tuilagi and Fuimaono-Sapolu from the team they have to face on Saturday.
As it is, Samoa can still call upon the services of former Glasgow winger David Lemi, who scored one try against Fiji last weekend and set up another, George Pisi and the giant Johnston brothers, Census and James. No one said this tour was going to be easy.