Fiji's valiant effort in its quarter final match today in the Rugby World Cup achieved so much more for second-tier nations.Early this morning at 1am Fiji time, the quarter final match between Pacific Island neighbors, Fiji, and South Africa commenced, but the valiant islanders went down 20-37 in an extremely tough match.
For Fiji, who had not played in the quarter final since 1987, they had nothing to lose going into the game after beating Wales in one of the major upsets of the World Cup to qualify for the quarter finals. Having accomplished what they went to the World Cup to do which was to make it to the quarters, the Fijians did not make it too easy for South Africa, putting more attention on them on top of the attention they already received from upsetting Wales.
Fiji's qualifying for the quarter finals and strong game against the Springboks has brought the focus of the rugby world not just on itself but on all second-tier and third-tier nations, especially those in the region. These nations always lag behind the first-tier nations because of the lack of finance and resources to be able to train talented players and bring them to world cup standard. And it seems as if nothing has been done to change this so the best have always gotten better while the lesser nations continue to lag behind.
However, Fiji's win against Wales and effort against South Africa, added on to Tonga's achievement when it also came close to defeating South Africa earlier on 25-30 and its effort against England 20-36, have brought much-needed attention to smaller nations. These efforts have shown that given more and better opportunities, second and third-tier nations could rise up in the world stage and achieve much more. But this all depends on whether the International Rugby Board (IRB) and the rest of the rugby world will do something to give these nations a better deal.
In the meantime, the performance of all the teams in the region has already done great things by putting the region out there. Overseas clubs have already started trying to recruit talents from the region, there is already talk of more test matches, especially against first-tier nations and most importantly, there is strong support at home in the region with local governments wanting to put more funds and resources into the development of the game.
However, the IRB, despite being very impressed with Pacific Islands nations' performances, as reported by Fiji's The Fiji Times, it wants to see consistency before regular test matches against first-tier nations are endorsed. This means Pacific nations will have to beat teams like the New Zealand Maori and Australia A. But the Board is indeed very impressed that the High Performance initiative it had started two years ago is showing results already when they expected to see these results right in 2011. This will mean more funds for island teams.
It is time the region made good use of its resources and one such resource is the talents it has in its people, be it in rugby or any other sport or area, for that matter.