Samoa gets support from All Blacks in pay dispute
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Senior All Blacks have sided with Samoan players in their dispute with their national rugby union, joining a social media campaign to force changes in the sport’s administration in the Pacific island nation.
Center Sonny Bill Williams, who has 405,000 Twitter followers, posted a picture of 10 All Blacks, including flyhalf Dan Carter, grouped around a sign bearing the hashtag SamoaUnited.
The hashtag was created to allow expressions of support for the efforts of Samoan players to force administrative reform.
Samoan players had threatened to boycott Saturday’s test against England at Twickenham to highlight their concerns about the Samoa Rugby Union’s administration and lack of financial transparency.
The boycott was averted when the International Rugby Board and International Rugby Players’ Association agreed to intercede between the players and Samoan officials.
But Samoa players told British media this week the boycott threat was only dropped when they were warned by the IRB that to go ahead might lead to Samoa’s expulsion from next year’s World Cup.
Bitterness between the players and union was inflamed when Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who is also the union chairman, condemned the boycott threat, calling the players “little kids” who were guilty of “foolish thinking.”
Tuilaepa said the threatened action was being led by a handful of senior players who put money before country, adding players who didn’t conform could be replaced.
That statement led to a number of former Samoa players calling for the boycott to proceed and using social media to rally support behind the Samoa team.
The actions of All Blacks players Thursday in supporting their Samoan counterparts could be seen to have political overtones. The picture posted by Williams was taken at the team’s hotel in Cardiff during their preparation for Saturday’s test against Wales.
The New Zealand Rugby Union was reported Thursday to be comfortable with the players’ protest as long as they did not appear in All Blacks team uniforms.
Individual players, including Williams and hooker Keven Mealamu, posted individual tweets which said the All Blacks were “supporting our Samoan brothers.”
Injured All Blacks flanker Victor Vito, who has been appointed to World Rugby’s newly-formed Athletes’ Commission, tweeted “we’re all behind the brothers in the Manu (Samoa) 100 percent.”
The IRPA said Thursday it had written to the Samoa union requesting “formal dialogue” about the players’ concerns and was awaiting a response.
On tour, so far, Samoa has lost to Italy and beaten Canada.