Rugby World Cup 2011
Samoan bad-boy ready to quit
Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu (File)
Auckland - Suspended Samoa center Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu says he's ready to quit playing rugby if his outspoken comments against the International Rugby Board lead to better treatment for second-tier teams.
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Fuimaono-Sapolu was suspended by the IRB from all rugby after failing to appear at a World Cup judicial hearing on Tuesday for his critical comments on Twitter about the IRB and referee Nigel Owens, who controlled Samoa's narrow loss to South Africa last week.
But Fuimaono-Sapolu said on New Zealand TV he wasn't informed about the whereabouts or time of the hearing.
Asked if he would have attended the hearing if he knew, he said, "Perhaps. They don't really have most people's trust at the moment. A lot of injustice has been dealt by the IRB and I would struggle to believe they would come up with a just decision for me."
Was he ready to sacrifice his pro rugby career? "Yes," said the qualified lawyer. "I studied hard for a reason, to make sure I had a backup."
The 30-year-old Fuimaono-Sapolu has hinted at having retired from international rugby after his second World Cup, but was contracted with English club Gloucester, where he was named their best player last season.
The Samoa Rugby Union was also charged with misconduct for failing to control the player. SRU officials apologised to the IRB two weeks ago after Fuimaono-Sapolu likened the shorter rest time endured by Tier Two teams to slavery, apartheid and the Holocaust. The player was warned then about future comments on social media outlets.
But after losing to the Springboks in a torrid quarter-final decider, in which Owens was criticised by both teams, Fuimaono-Sapolu tweeted that Owens was racist and biased, accused the IRB of conspiring to help the top teams and dared the IRB again to come after him.
In saying racist, Fuimaono-Sapolu said he meant how Samoa didn't receive fair refereeing, noting after the heavy 2007 World Cup loss to South Africa that New Zealand referee Paul Honiss was also heavily criticised.
"We always get bad referees, we always get stereotyped that we don't know how to play rugby; that we're thugs, that we're stupid. We've always got that," Fuimaono-Sapolu said.
In saying biased, he said proving actual bias by Owens was debatable, but there was apparent bias because of a conflict of interest in Owens being a Welshman in charge of a game that had a bearing on Wales qualifying for the quarters.
"There was a perceived bias that could have been eliminated by just getting another ref," Fuimaono-Sapolu said. "How hard is that?"
IRB referees manager Paddy O'Brien defended Owens on Tuesday.
"There were, like all games in the tournament, errors made (in the Springboks-Samoa game). Any errors we addressed with Nigel," O'Brien said on Radio Sport. "It certainly wasn't seen as a perfect performance and there are some areas we've asked him to look at. But overall, he's refereed very, very well here."
Owens will ref the quarter-final between New Zealand and Argentina.
Fuimaono-Sapolu said he had the support of some Samoa team-mates, but he didn't want to be regarded as speaking on behalf of the team.
"I just want justice for the next generation," he said. "We beat Australia, we should have beaten the Springboks but we were climbing up the hill. Adversity after adversity, hurdle after hurdle. I just want the next generation of Samoan players to be given a level playing field.
"It's a shame to throw away (my) rugby career because I'm fighting for justice, that's odd. So if that happens, I'm definitely not throwing it away. I'm having my career squashed by injustice."
Earlier in the day, IRB chief executive Mike Miller said Fuimaono-Sapolu could say what he liked up to a point.
"When you question someone's integrity when they can't fend for themselves, call someone racist and other unpleasant things, it's not right," Miller told Radio Sport.
He also defended the IRB's treatment of second-tier teams.
"We don't care about the minnows? If that was the case why have we invested tens of millions of dollars over the past five or six years in order to try and make them more competitive? Why did we open up and pay for a high-performance center in Samoa? Why do we pay for the Pacific Rugby Cup, the Pacific Nations Cup? Why do we give them coaches, trainers, why do we provide them with gyms with analysis tools?" Miller asked.
"Why do we ensure Tier One nations will go and tour the islands from next year? Why do that if we don't care?
He said it was very difficult to create a schedule which was fair to all teams when there are uneven pools of five. Some teams would be guaranteed fewer rest days. Only by reducing the tournament to 16 teams would everyone have a fairer schedule, he added, but the IRB didn't want to do that.
"The tens of millions of dollars that we invest in the so-called minnows comes from Rugby World Cup, from broadcasters who want to have the big games at the weekends. It's better than it was last time, and we'll make it better next time."