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World League would be 'death' of Pacific rugby - player's union

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Reported plans for a World League involving 12 invited nations would be the "death" of international rugby in the Pacific Islands, according to the head of their players' union.

New Zealand media reported on Thursday that World Rugby was considering introducing the new competition in 2020, which would involve the existing sides from the Six Nations, with Japan and the United States also joining the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship.

The competition would exclude emerging European nations like Georgia, Romania and Russia and Pacific Island sides Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, for up to 12 years.

"I've been in discussions with the three CEOs (of the Pacific islands) and we talked about the impact of this and one of them straight out said that 'this will be death of Pacific Island Rugby'," Pacific Rugby Players' Chief Executive Aayden Clarke told New Zealand's Stuff Media on Thursday.

"Another discussion indicated that 'we might as well start playing league'. It's going to have a huge impact."

Players of Pasifika heritage like former All Blacks Jonah Lomu and Michael Jones have showcased the explosive brilliance of Pacific rugby and individuals from all three nations have played a huge part in popularising the game on a global stage.

Several have also gone on to represent other countries, with Mako and Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi in the current England side, while Bundee Aki is an automatic pick for Ireland.

Clarke, however, said if the reports were true and the competition was locked in for 12 years without other sides being able to join, then a generation of young Pasifika players would be lost to the game.

"There are 18-year-old young Samoans, Tongans and Fijians now who will now be looking at 'who do I make myself eligible for' because if I play for my home country I will never play in the bright lights of Twickenham and possibly will never have the opportunity to play the All Blacks or Australia," he said.

"A five-year stand-down in France is a lot more appealing than 12 years and we're only going to see an increase in players playing for other countries," he added of World Rugby regulations that allow uncapped players to represent a new country after achieving five-years residency.

"We're going to see players withdrawing from test rugby and signing three to four year deals with French or UK clubs, quite happy to step down from international rugby because, no disrespect, but they don't value test matches against the likes of Spain, Russia and Uruguay as high as playing against top nations.

"It's going to be a sad day."

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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