England players plan to donate £1,000 each towards bankrupt Samoan Rugby Union

Daniel Schofield
England and Samoa's players share a prayer after their match in 2014 - The RFU Collection

England’s players are set to donate part of their match fees towards their Samoan counterparts after the Samoan Rugby Union was declared bankrupt.

Mako Vunipola, the Saracens prop who comes from a Tongan family, proposed donating at least £1,000 per player and The Daily Telegraph understands there is near universal agreement within the squad, who are expected to meet shortly to discuss the plan. England players each receive a £22,000 match fee - which far outweighs the £650 payment to each of the Samoans from a sold-out match at Twickenham on November 25.

The RFU confirmed on Wednesday it would donate £75,000 towards the Samoan Rugby Union as a goodwill gesture. 

Under World Rugby’s tours agreement policy, Samoa are entitled to nothing more than expenses from the host nation.

Scotland entertain the Samoans at Murrayfield on Saturday - and the Scottish Rugby Union have ruled out making a similar donation. 

Mako Vunipola has led calls for England to donate to Samoa Credit: PA

The RFU’s donation, which amounts to just two per cent of the near £5 million turnover it is expected to generate from the game, has been welcomed but far more needs to be done according to Dan Leo, the head of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare association, who has also launched a fundraising campaign. 

Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also chairman of Samoa Rugby Union, claims the union has become insolvent with debts that are thought to be around £300,000.

But the development highlights the growing gap between the haves and have nots in world rugby, and Leo reacted angrily. 

He accused World Rugby of turning a blind eye to the situation on the Pacific Islands. 

“We have been holding our breath waiting for a level playing field since the game went professional in 1995 and we are not much closer 20 years later,” Leo told the Daily Telegraph.

 “We hear a lot about the rugby family and rugby’s values. This is a real chance for us to prove what those values are. Are we a sport that looks after the little guys, the half backs, or do you just let them get smashed?”

Samoa bankruptcy Q&A | All you need to know

Leo argues the tours agreement, which entitles the host nation to keep all the profits from a home game, is inherently unfair. 

Even though Samoa have visited England twice in three years, England have yet to play a match in the Pacific Islands, although a date is due to be confirmed after 2019.

Even when Samoa hosted New Zealand in 2015, they ended up losing £200,000 as the All Blacks’ travelling costs - which the host nation must pay - outweighed what they could generate in a country where the minimum wage is £1.81 an hour. 

“Bringing the higher profile games is a great PR exercise but it does not change much,” Leo said.

 “We only have a 10,000 capacity stadium and we live in a third-world country. A cost of a ticket at Twickenham is higher than the average monthly wage. The only way that we are going to get any change is to have a stronger, fairer distribution model. Anything else is not going to work.”

Leo acknowledges most of the problems are connected to poor governance by the Samoan Rugby Union. 

Dan Leo, pictured here in 2014, says Samoa need more high profile matches Credit: Getty images

When he was a player, Leo led a strike threat before their match against England in 2014, but little has improved since then with regular reports of financial mismanagement. 

Critics suggest there is a conflict of interest between Malielegaoi holding a position as Prime Minister and chairman of the SRU. 

In other sports, politicians are banned from holding positions within governing bodies. 

“The situation could be fixed if World Rugby pulled their finger out,” Leo said. 

“There’s no reason why Samoa should be allowed to operate the model it does where the Prime Minister is also the chairman of the SRU. Politics should not be involved in sport. Rugby is a business and our union is being run by politicians. 

“You can’t just throw money at what is a third world country and expect it to work. You would be better off flushing that money down the toilet.”

Leo also sounded a warning that unless change occurs soon then Samoa’s love affair with rugby union may come to an end. 

Leo says Samoan rugby is under threat Credit: getty images

“World Rugby has to ask themselves do we really want to help Pacific Island rugby?” Leo said. “Because if not then there are other options. League and NFL are growing hugely on the island because people are fed up with union. At the moment the whole system is broken.”

This weekend, 23 players from the Pacific Islands will play for other Tier One nations in the autumn internationals - with a career in one of the major nations being one important means to escape from a life of poverty for many of them.

England's squad for this weekend's clash with Argentina features Mako Vunipola, from Tonga, and Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni, both originally from Fiji. 

Three years ago after their last game, England and Samoa players shared a communal prayer. 

Anthony Watson, the wing, was part of that match and says the squad want to help. 

“It is definitely something we will discuss going into that week but I don’t think it is right to be talking about that game in the week we have Argentina,” Watson said. 

“Across the Premiership everyone appreciates what Samoan rugby players do and they are the most naturally gifted players on the planet. If it is appropriate in that week we will discuss it.”

 A World Rugby spokesperson said: “World Rugby and Oceania Rugby have engaged extensively with the Samoa Rugby Union to drive governance reform, financial reform and administrative reform over the years, but ultimately, it is down to the leadership of the union to adhere to agreed principles and processes.”

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