Te Ahikaa Trotman
Former All Black 'deeply frustrated and disappointed’ over World Rugby changes
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
A Samoan All Black has slammed World Rugby’s new competition, claiming the format will push nations like Samoa and Tonga to the bottom of the rugby heap.
For years, rugby nations globally - including New Zealand - have plundered Pasifika players, using the islands as a rugby nursery to support their own competitions.
But now, with the 2026 Nations Championship competition only featuring fixtures between World Rugby’s giants, the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship - with only Japan and Fiji tipped to be included - that will leave tier-two nations like Tonga, Samoa, Georgia and Portugal out.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has hailed it as “an historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success”.
But former All Black and current Manu Samoa fly-half Lima Sopoaga is one of many who are critical.
Sopoaga took to social media to speak out about the decision.
“As a Samoan rugby player, I am deeply frustrated and disappointed by the recent World Council decision to exclude smaller nations like Samoa and Tonga from the upcoming Nations Championship.
“This move not only hinders our progress, but undermines the spirit of inclusivity that rugby is supposed to stand for.”
Sopoaga is not the only Samoan All Black to express frustration with World Rugby officials this past week.
All Black legend Sir Bryan Williams lashed out at referees last week about an “unconscious bias” against Pasifika teams.
“It seems to be that the top nations, they control proceedings and this unconscious bias ... they’re the ones who need to get through.”
Following Sopoaga’s Instagram post, fellow international rugby players supported him, including Keven Mealamu and Ardie Savea.
South American rugby president Sebastian Pineyrua has also been critical of the new competition, and has warned: “It’s the death of rugby”.
“It will be impossible to compete with those teams in four or five years. They’re going to go up and the others will go down.”
Sopaga, who notched up 18 games for the All Blacks, says: “We were excited about the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with teams like the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies. But now that dream has been shattered.”
Current Tonga Rugby Union player and former All Black Ngani Laumape reshared Sopoaga’s post in agreement.
“Couldn’t have said it any better.”
The former Highlanders half believes rugby will never die in Samoa.
“Until then, we remain determined and steadfast, ready to prove ourselves whenever we get the chance. Rugby is in our blood, and no decision can extinguish that fire”.
Hero image: Lima Sopoaga is highly critical of a new World Rugby championship format. Photo / Photosport