No Fiji conflict for England's Hughes


London (AFP)

England's Nathan Hughes has insisted he will have no divided loyalties should the back-row make his first Test start against Fiji, the land of his birth, at Twickenham on Saturday.

Hughes is the latest in a long line of players from the Pacific Islands to have left their home nation in search of more lucrative rugby opportunities elsewhere.

Qualified for England on a controversial three-year residency rule which many, including World Rugby chairman and Argentina great Agustin Pichot, believe is too short, Hughes summed up his situation with piercing clarity.

"I play rugby to support my family and put shelter over their heads," said Hughes, who made his Test debut off the bench in England's 37-21 win over South Africa at Twickenham last week.

"That is the decision I made. It is how Fijians survive. It is their bread and butter.

"I would love for them to have more resources, but that is the way it is. They just have to live on whatever they have got. I don’t know what they do with their money. I just focus on my family.

"The response (to my first cap) has been positive, all happy and proud of the decision I have made. And, no, I won’t be singing both anthems. I will only be singing 'God Save the Queen'," added Hughes, who was educated at Kelston Boys High School, where the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry was once the headmaster, after teachers at the Auckland school spotted his sporting talent.

Few blame the 25-year-old for trying to make the most financially out of a short career -- he is set to receive a match fee of £22,000 ($27,370) compared to the £60 ($75) per diem expenses of a Fiji player on Saturday.

Nevertheless, there have long been concerns that the 'talent drain' of players from poorer southern hemisphere sides to already well-resourced European countries is damaging efforts to increase the global competitiveness of international rugby union.

Fiji won the inaugural Olympic Sevens gold medal at this year's Rio Games but the likes of Hughes, Australia's Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight, and New Zealand's Waisake Naholo have opted to play Test rugby elsewhere.

- 'Talented athletes' -

But help could be at hand if an elite club Super Rugby franchise was established in Fiji. There are plans to launch such a team, possibly as soon as 2018, potentially allowing players the chance to pursue professional careers at home and be exposed to a very high standard of rugby in the process.

Fiji coach John McKee said Fiji could follow the example of Argentina, whose exposure to Super Rugby has helped cement their place as a leading rugby nation.

"It costs a lot of money to run a Super Rugby franchise and the economies in the Pacific are small economies, but it could become a reality in the next five to six years," McKee said.

"From a national coaching perspective, to have our players playing in Super Rugby would be hugely beneficial for the national team because the windows fit in with the Test match windows.

"We would have access to a fair number of our squad at home over the whole 12 months. We would still select players from Europe, but the core of our team would be at home.

"With the talented athletes we have, if we had a Super Rugby team, we would be right up there.

"If you look at Argentina, they have improved since joining Super Rugby...You can see how Argentina's style has changed -- they are a much more dangerous team now and had a very successful World Cup, playing very un-Argentinean style rugby.

"That has come from playing Super Rugby."