Burger’s have-nots the real losers

THE Samoan with the unpronounceable double-barreled name called it ‘slavery’ and duly gave the World Cup organisers both barrels.

The reaction to Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu’s rant over the compressed scheduling of his country’s four pool matches into 16 days veered from recommendations of a medal for bravery to demands that the tweeting twit be sent home. Goodness knows what more foul-mouthed abuse would have poured forth had he considered the case of a country in an even worse pickle.

Namibia, led by the fearless Jacques Burger of Saracens, are about to be plunged into the most brutal schedule of all. They are obliged to take on South Africa in Albany this morning, make a four-hour coach journey to New Plymouth and play Wales there on Monday morning. Sadistic is hardly the word for it.

The Samoans have 12 days between tackling the strongest pair in the supposed ‘Pool of Death’. Namibia, the majority of whose squad are amateurs, will have three. Unlike the fuming Fuimaono-Sapolu, a well-paid professional in the English Premiership with Gloucester, the Eagles of the Kalahari are, in Burger’s words, just happy to be here.

“The schedule does seem unfair but we are not going to complain,” he said a few hours before hurling himself at the Springboks. “Our view is that there’s no point moaning about it. We just get on with trying to make the most of it.”

Burger’s dignified attitude offers a sharp contrast to the storm over Eliota’s El Nino which passed with the game’s governing body, the International Board, accepting an apology from the Samoan management. Maybe those who sit in the ivory towers of their Dublin headquarters felt Eliota had a point even if he did call them “dickheads”. Over here, the argument got very short shrift from an All Black who played 79 Tests.

Ian Jones dismissed the issue in his role as a television pundit the other night along the lines of: “Well, if they got higher up the IRB rankings, they’d get a better schedule.”

And how, Mr Jones, can they do that when the so-called major nations hardly bother with them in between World Cups? When did the All Blacks play a Test match in Samoa, Fiji or Tonga? Never.

Australia have not been there for almost 30 years. England, last in the South Pacific to play Fiji in Suva 20 years ago, shamefully cancelled a tour there post-professionalism at short notice when they got a better offer to go elsewhere.

As for Namibia, none of the top-tier countries have gone there since Ireland and Wales in the early Nineties. Windhoek is only down the road, so to speak, from South Africa but the Boks have never been. So much, then, for the rugby brotherhood and the global game priding itself in looking after its own.

Sapolu does have previous on the tweeting front but there can be no denying that he has done underdogs the world over an almighty favour by highlighting the World Cup of the haves and the have-nots. Had Ireland or any of the British teams been given a similar schedule, the stink would have reached high heaven.

The American Eagles, Georgia and Russia are in the same four-matches-in-16-days boat. Canada and Romania have to complete the same number in 18 days. Tonga and Fiji both have the luxury of marginally more than three weeks, which leaves the luckless Namibians clutching the shortest of the short straws.

Their warrior captain could conceivably have bided his time and taken a more rewarding route into Test rugby with South Africa as Percy Montgomery, for one, did during the Nineties. Springboks, like the rest of the elite, are not asked to take a battering against superior opponents on a Thursday and take another one the following Monday.

Burger’s face, cut in three places around his left eye after the Samoan story, showed, in all its gory detail, the hammering he takes for his country. It does not require a consultation with Einstein to come to the conclusion that Burger will spill more blood again today. He will fight his corner to the very end and when it’s all over, there won’t be a tweet of complaint about the injustice of it all.

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