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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 05:08 GMT 06:08 UK
Fiji criticise schedule
Samoa hooker Trevor Leota
Leota will be replaced by Mahonri Schwalger

Fiji have criticised the International Rugby Board (IRB) after two of their players were ruled out of the World Cup because of club commitments.

Simon Raiwalui and Jacob Rauluni, along with Samoa's Trevor Leota and Henry Tuilagi and Tonga's Aisea Havili, will miss the tournament in Australia to play for their clubs in Britain.

Fiji Rugby Union chief executive Pio Bosco Tikoisuva blamed the withdrawals on the decision to schedule the World Cup in October and November, the start of the northern hemisphere season.

"It is inconceivable that the most lucrative leagues in world soccer would choose to clash head-on with the soccer World Cup," Tikoisuva said in a statement.

"But in rugby, the senior unions are running their leagues right through what is supposed to be the game's show-stopping world event.

This is an absolute blight on the game and it just isn't fair, I know Trevor will be devastated by this
Samoa coach John Boe
"It is the clash of dates that is forcing this club versus country struggle."

The withdrawals have highlighted the long-running problems impoverished Pacific rugby unions have in fielding their strongest squads, with many players choosing not to risk lucrative club contracts by playing for their country.

"Our players play for our country for the right reasons but they should not be forced to choose between national duty and the wages that pay family commitments," said Tikoisuva.

Veteran hooker Leota pulled out of the squad because his club side, Wasps, were refusing to pay him for the time he would be away at the competition.

"This is an absolute blight on the game and it just isn't fair, I know Trevor will be devastated by this," said Samoa coach John Boe.

Fiji coach Mac McCallion said Rauwalui and Rauluni had virtually been held to ransom by their British clubs.

"The players are basically told, 'You don't play for Fiji'. If they go to the World Cup they don't have a contract," McCallion told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

"The clubs will deny it. They say it's the players' decision but these are two dedicated Fijians.

"They would give an arm and a leg to play at the World Cup. But what can they do? Playing for those clubs is their bread and butter."

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