Boots and all

Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018: Fiji A v Japan’s Fiji B puts Pacific Island talent drain in the spotlight

Talent drain from Pacific Islands has been well documented but Fiji-Japan clash in San Francisco offers stark reminder of just how big the issue is

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2018, 5:46am

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah caused a stir this week when he joked that “Africa won the World Cup” in reference to the amount of players of African heritage in the victorious France team in Russia, and the Rugby World Cup Sevens had its own example on Saturday.

The talent drain from the Pacific Islands has been well documented but the clash between Fiji and Japan in San Francisco offered another stark reminder of just how big the issue is.

It wasn’t quite Fiji A v Fiji B but it wasn’t far off, with four Fijian-born players in the Japan squad.

It didn’t quite fit Noah’s brief either – Fiji won 35-10 and while Japan started well and led at half-time, the match had that air of inevitability that many do when Fiji is involved, and so it turned out.

Fiji clearly aren’t hampered by the drain on the sevens pitch, but when Kalione Nasoko was put fairly and squarely on his backside by Japan’s Fiji-born brute Jose Seru, there’s no doubt he wasn’t too rapt about the situation.

It’s in the 15s game that Fiji most feel the pain and measures are being implemented to put a halt to the drain, with the new five-year residency rule the most significant of those.

There has also been talk of a Super Rugby team in the Pacific Islands to give players a reason to stay at home.

Saturday’s clash at AT&T Park revived memories of a test match between Australia and France in 2016 that featured five Fijian backs.

But while the rule is aimed at the tier one nations that boost their already-strong stocks with outsiders, smaller nations like Japan will suffer the most and they must surely be thinking about how they can rectify this situation.

The chances of a home-grown Japanese player putting on a barnstorming run like Seru did against a Fijian side that are traditionally immovable are next to none.

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To look at the live scoring during Saturday’s match and see 11 Fijians on the field – as well as Tongan-born Tevita Tupou and Joseph Kamana, who has ties to the Cook Islands, in the Japan line-up – made one wonder just where Japan would be without their foreign legion.

On top of his brutal hit, Seru also scored a try, with Fijian-born Kameli Soejima scoring the other.

On the other side of the coin, the Japan 15s side seems to have been able to integrate foreign talent while keeping a balance and ensuring they are very much a Japanese side.

The sevens side, however, clearly needs work. You can’t blame the Japanese coaches for picking what they have at their disposal but it’s not a great look for the game and it’s surely not sustainable.

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While 16 of France’s 23-man squad World Cup had African heritage, all but three of those 16 players were born in France.

The same can’t be said for Japan’s sevens squad unfortunately. While Fiji have been losing players by the dozen and are still dominating on the global sevens stage, as the issue is slowly rectified one feels Japan will feel a similar pinch to what the islanders do on the 15s front.