|Samoa defeated Italy and Scotland in South Africa in June 2013|
The poll this past week asked readers to give a Yes or No answer to a question that has the potential to grow in the coming years - Should Samoa join the Rugby Championship. 52 people voted with 32 in favor and 20 against.
Argentina´s addition to the Rugby Championship was anything other than a quick, swift process. To the contrary it was a long term fight which saw Argentina added in 2012 some eight years after Los Pumas became the first team to defeat France at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles. In the years that followed Argentina would defeat all other Six Nations sides and then finish third in the World Cup while Australia and New Zealand were eliminated by England and France, two sides who Argentina had defeated in Europe.
When Argentina was eventually added to the Tri Nations to form the Rugby Championship a lot had changed. Of the players than had done so well in the period between Rugby World Cups 2003 and 2007 very few players remained. Argentina´s 17-12 win over France to open Rugby World Cup 2007 featured Horacio Agulla, Patricio Albacete, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Juan Martín Hernández, Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Rodrigo Roncero while Felipe Contepomi would play in 2013 after missing the 2012 tournament.
Had authorities taken a different attitude Argentina could have been playing in the Tri Nations in 2006. That year saw a new format with the three teams playing each other three times each rather than twice. At the same time Argentina was only able to play home matches in June and ttour Europe in November. This continued until after Rugby World Cup 2011 when too much time had arguably passed as the Argentine rugby team had dropped both in terms of IRB World Rankings and in terms of the number of matches it was winning.
Samoa faces a similar situation. Right now Samoa can lay claim to being a better side than both Italy and Scotland. Having been invited to play in South Africa this past June the Samoans finished the tournament in second position after losing against the hosts 56-23 in the final. The final score was not in favor of the Pacific Islanders who went into the match undefeated after playing well to defeat Scotland 27-17 and Italy 39-10. Other notable results in recent years include away victories over Australia in 2011 and Wales in 2012. While both wins were against leading rugby nations neither Australia nor Wales fielded their top players for these fixtures.
Samoa participated in the South African quadrangular event as it was a unique opportunity to play in a Tier One tournament outside of the Rugby World Cup. Similar to Argentina post Rugby World Cup 2003 the country has been producing results but lacks a competition to play in. Samoa therefore took the opportunity when it presented itself and consequently did not play in the 2013 Pacific Nations Cup. The resutls achieved in South Africa served to justify the decision entirely.
Samoa can now claim to be deserving of its current IRB World Ranking which sees it in seventh position ahead of four Tier One nations - Ireland, Scotland, Argentina and Italy. There is therefore genuine reason to believe Samoa should be added to the Rugby Championship. Should Samoa be added then the tournament would likely need to be altered possibly from playing home and away matches to just playing each opponent once each. Sides would therefore have two home matches rather than three which is not good for the four existing members. Samoa also would likely need to relocate its home matches, possibly to Auckland which could spark concerns from multiple sides and it would result in what South Africa wants least - more power in Oceania.
Another issue is that of Samoan´s neighbors Fiji and Tonga. Both sides have achieved significant results previously. Tonga defeated Scotland last November, defeated France in 2011 and has also defeated Australia previously. Fiji knocked Wales out of Rugby World Cup 2007. Samoa, though is, right now, significantly better than both and should it be able to get wins this November against Ireland, the French Barbarians and Georgia there would be further reason to support Samoa´s inclusion.
But Samoa does not come without controversy. 50% of the Samoan squad that played at Rugby World Cup 2011 were New Zealanders - all born and raised outside of Samoa and qualifying based on their parents or grandparents. The 2013 squad relied even more on Samoans from abroad. Captain Paul Williams is the son of former All Black Bryan Williams. Like many of Samoa´s players he is in the team after failing to have made the All Blacks.