Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 10:19 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 10:19 | SYDNEY

Rugby Union: Regional front-rower


Rodger Shanahan


16 June 2010 11:15

I always like reading Graeme Dobell's posts and I would like to add some comments to his latest on regional footballing diplomacy. But before I do, I must admit my sporting bias — I am an unabashed Rugby Union tragic.

While there is no doubt that there are large numbers of players of Pacific heritage playing Rugby League in Australia, the same is true of Rugby Union. Watching the Rugby Union test against England on Saturday night, anyone would have noticed that the front row (which was admittedly turned into pretzels by their English opponents) contained Saia Faingaa and Salesi Maafu. 

Next week it's likely that Faingaa will be replaced by Tatafu Polota-Nau, when the latter returns from injury. The man of the match was the Maori-heritage Quade Cooper. Digby Ioane (New Zealand-born and of Samoan heritage) had a strong game while a likely future Wallabies captain and current Queensland captain, the PNG-born Will Genia, sat on the bench. Going back further, I remember the Tongan-born Viliami Ofahengaue (Willie O) scoring Australia's only try of the 1991 Rugby World Cup final.*

With this in mind, I think Graeme's view that 'League has given Australia a living window into its Island neighbours' is giving Rugby League a lot more credit than it deserves. While lots of players of Polynesian descent may play Rugby League in Australia, the game doesn't generate much interest in the Pacific, with the exception of League-mad PNG.

As an international policy think tank, we should look at the global influence of the countries themselves. One of the few places Pacific countries make their mark on the world stage and are treated as equals (outside of the UN) is the Rugby Union field. Tonga famously beat Australia in 1973 and beat France in 1999. Samoa has beaten the likes of Argentina and Wales at World Cups and Fiji has beaten Australia (twice), Wales, the British Lions and pushed eventual winners South Africa all the way in the best game of an otherwise turgid 2007 World Cup.

One final thought: Graeme referred to the roles of our four footballing codes in regional relations, yet he mentioned only three. At the risk of upsetting the tight shorts brigade, it raises the question: how does Aussie Rules contribute to our regional relations?

Photo by Flickr user Dhammika Heenpalla, used under a Creative Commons license.

* I've had a couple of e-mails pointing out that Tony Daly (not Willie O) scored Australia's try in the 1991 World Cup final. Willie O took the throw in the lineout but didn't put the ball over the line. Obviously there are rugby tragics out there with better memories than mine.