Rugby World Cup 2011

Samoa PM slams IRB 'bias'

2011-10-08 10:38
Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (File)

Wellington - Samoa's Prime Minister has slammed the International Rugby Board (IRB) for allowing a Welshman to referee his country's Rugby World Cup loss to South Africa last week, which saw Wales make the quarter-finals at Samoa's expense.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi also accused the sport's governing body of bias towards the northern hemisphere and called for a 'British Lions' team to replace England, Wales and Scotland at the World Cup.

Tuilaepa said Samoans were bitterly disappointed at last week's 13-5 loss to the Springboks, when players complained bad calls from Welsh referee Nigel Owens derailed a furious second-half fightback.

Centre Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu even took to his Twitter account to accuse Owens of racism, prompting the IRB to ban him from all rugby indefinitely.

Samoa, South Africa, Fiji and Wales were all bracketed in Pool D, the so-called "pool of death", in the tournament's opening stages.

Wales edged ahead of Samoa in the race for the quarter-finals when they beat the Pacific Islanders 17-10 in Hamilton, but the Samoans could still have qualified second in the group with a win over South Africa in Auckland.

Tuilaepa said he had legitimate concerns about why a Welsh whistleblower controlled the match.

"The question has to be asked, why was a Welsh referee appointed to control the South Africa-Samoa game when, obviously, the result would determine if Wales gets into the quarter-finals?" he said in a statement issued Saturday.

He pointed out that Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering was also chairman of the IRB committee which last April assigned referees to World Cup matches, including Owens to the Samoa-South Africa clash.

"The choice was deliberate, the intention, obvious," Tuilaepa added in the statement, which was headlined "IRB referees bringing the game into disrepute".

He also released a list of 12 decisions by Owens that he said went against Samoa, including an "excessive" late red card shown to full-back Paul Williams for striking.

"The onus should have been on the IRB to appoint completely neutral referees with no conflict of rugby and nationality interests," he said. "The whole process including the IRB's governance structure is wrong and needs urgent revising."

Tuilaepa demanded the IRB "look beyond its petty northern hemisphere comfort zone, and realize that the world -- countries big and small -- is picking up a rugby ball and expects to play on a level playing field."

He also took a swipe at British representation at the World Cup, saying a single "British Lions" team should replace England, Wales and Scotland.

"The biggest facade in world rugby is how the IRB and British unions managed to pull the wool over our rugby eyes that England, Wales and Scotland are different countries," he said.

Tuilaepa said the 2015 World Cup in England should have "neutral" referees, a "British Lions" team and at least seven days rest for all teams between matches. Tight turnaround times were another Samoan bugbear at this tournament.

"Failure to do so and we feel there is ample substance here to take these matters to a higher court," he said, without specifying which court he was referring to.

The British and Irish Lions are a longstanding touring team drawn from the leading players in England, Scotland, Wales and the island of Ireland.

They generally play series every four years against one of the leading rugby nations of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Their next tour is to Australia in 2013.


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