Flying Fijians rugby coach John McKee expects Samoa to be at next year’s World Cup but says he sympathises with their plight after their qualifying campaign was thrown into limbo.

The Manu were scheduled to face Spain or Portugal in a home and away playoff next month for a place at next year’s tournament.

But the proposed fixtures will now take place in July or August, while the governing body investigates an eligibility scandal engulfing European teams.

Fiji had to play-off against the Cook Islands four years ago for a place in the 2015 World Cup and John McKee said it added another layer of difficulty.

“Although Rugby World Cup qualification games are Regulation Nine release matches, it does create difficulty with professional clubs when you’re pulling your players at different times of the year,” he said.

“When you ask for their release, I mean technically the clubs have to release them, but it does create a bit of angst at that time.

“They sort of don’t mind their players playing in June because they know they’ll get their four weeks break and then they’ll be back to do some pre-season before the season starts.

“If they’re called up for games in late July into August it really disrupts the pre-season preparation for the clubs. I can understand why the clubs get a big angst about that and it doesn’t help with the relationship between particularly the Pacific Islands and the clubs because we rely so heavily on clubs for release of our players.”

Some financial benefits only kicked in once nations qualified for the World Cup, which could also prove challenging in the Pacific where budgets were tight, McKee said.

“I do sympathise with them. There’s obviously been some issues around the qualification process in Europe, which has affected who the actual qualifier is and which team will play in the playoffs with Samoa,” he said.

“That hasn’t been resolved yet so Samoa can’t play in World Cup qualifiers in June where they would have hoped to lock in their qualification for the Rugby World Cup.

“I know from previous experience with Fiji it is difficult when your qualification is later… I’m sure they will eventually qualify but it just throws your long-term planning into limbo.”


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