Brent Impey: Chairman of New Zealand Rugby.

Brent Impey: Chairman of New Zealand Rugby.


I believe the gap’s got wider between tier
one and tier two. I think world rugby has got a lot to answer for in this space. In
particular, I believe there should be eligibility rules which allow players who’ve played for
tier one countries such as the All Blacks to go back after say, a year and play for
their countries of origin. Think how much stronger Tonga would have been had Charles
Piutau been in the side. Samoa also with the likes of Steven Luatua. It would have made
a huge, huge difference. Also, there has been a lot of incidents where Pacifica players
who have got their family responsibilities have made themselves curiously unavailable
for their national teams because of the pressure put on by clubs in in Europe. I believe that
you cannot put any blame on that on the Pasifika players themselves because they’ve got to
feed their families. But it just shows World rugby has been really poor in addressing those
issues. New Zealand has tried a lot to make the changes at World rugby level, but we have
been blocked by being unable to get the necessary votes. And how ironic it is that last night,
Scotland got dealt to by Japan with a team from Scotland that includes players like Thompson
and Maitland, who learned all their rugby here here in New Zealand. So the irony of
it is there for all of us to see. Does World Rugby need to put pressure on the
Northern Hemisphere and its clubs to agree to relaxing those eligibility rules? As far as the eligibility rules are concerned,
that’s World Rugby’s area and that change could and in our opinion should be made. In
terms of the clubs, it’s about enforcement and making sure that all parties are working
together. But yeah, I think it’s disappointing. Fiji would be disappointed in their effort
even though they finished third in the group they could have done better and Samoa and
Tonga, quite frankly disappointing. But they’re disappointing for these very reasons – that
they’re being starved of the necessary resources and opportunities to play the game and and
improve. If you take the All Blacks match against Tonga in Hamilton, I got no pleasure
from that game whatsoever. Because all it did was reinforce this widening gap and it
has to be addressed. And this world cup has highlighted it. Certainly watching that game between Tonga
and New Zealand was like watching privilege and disadvantage. But if relaxing those eligibility
rules around the world would grow the game both economically and globally. What reason
does world rugby have to justify the fact that they haven’t made that change yet?
Well, it’s the world rugby members who of course vote it’s not World Rugby, the organization
it’s the members and I think you can point the finger straight at the likes of Scotland,
Ireland, Wales, England, these countries who, you look at them, and you look at their teams
and what they’ve done in terms of rules that suit themselves. I mean, I’m very tempted
probably won’t go quite this far but I’m very tempted to say it’s virtually colonialism. I did want to ask you about that whether there
was a little bit of colonial influence in terms of who’s controlling the game, yet we
see Pacific players people throughout the tournament and different countries all across
the world. Yes, well, hopefully we are going to see some
change in the space. And all we can do is from New Zealand point of view, supported
by Australia, is to try and bring about change, but it’s not easy and it’s it’s a matter of
getting the votes. But hopefully this World Cup has highlighted the issue
As the chairman of New Zealand Rugby union’s board What does it feel like to watch that
tough predicament that many Pacific players go through which you just said, having to
choose between providing for their families and then their pride in their home countries
or their nation’s we often seeing players like we have Scotland versus Samoa, playing
against their own families on the field at these Rugby World Cup tournaments. I’ve got no problem with players maximizing
their opportunities. You take Sean Maitland, for example, who’s part of his family was
supporting the Samoans part of his family, Obviously he was part of Scotland. That’s
fine and Sean has made his call, boy from Tokoroa made good. On the other hand, why
shouldn’t Samoa also be able to gain from the fact that it’s got players of heritage
who could have been playing for that team? It’s just that the rules are so skewed to
favour the established unions. What’s New Zealand Rugby Union’s commitment
to supporting eligibility rules being relaxed and supporting the growth of specific players
in the game. Well, we have argued this for a long time
consistently argued at World Rugby level Steve Chu, our CEO has been very vocal about this.
But what more can you do other than to raise the argument and use opportunities such as
this with the Rugby World Cup to make your point?
Looking ahead towards future Rugby World Cups, How different would the tournament’s be if
these eligibility rules would be relaxed? What would that look like to you?
Well, at the moment, if things stay the way they are, the World Cup will be played. Let’s
take in 20 years time the World Cup in 2039. If we don’t change the rules, then I suspect
pretty much the same eight to 10 teams will be there in 2039 battling it out. What the
game needs to do is to grow. And we saw this with a proposal around the nation’s championship
which New Zealand Rugby supported. And it’s great to see Japan succeed. It’s terrific
to see Japan succeed. So if we could get other teams and it’s not just the Pacific Islands,
the likes of Fiji Samoa and Tonga, but other countries such as the USA, Canada, Brazil,
Germany, Spain, Russia, all being able to perform at a better level if it comes down
to this. Do you do you legislate to protect what you have, or do you look at opportunities
to grow and i think that’s that’s the conflict?

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