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Top 14 dangers

Friday, December 01, 2017

RACING 92's former All Black Joe Rokocoko believes the drunken brawl court case involving two Fijian stars "opens the eyes" to the perils faced by Pacific Islanders recruited into France's Top 14.

Josaia Raisuqe and Waisea Nayacalevu went on trial in France on Wednesday over a fight outside a Paris nightspot. Raisuqe was also charged with sexual assault.

Fijian-born Rokocoko is closely involved in the Top 14's significant Fijian presence through his work with the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) association.

He told AFP the Top 14's enthusiastic recruitment of Fijian players — Clermont and Brive have set up player academies in the country — came with mixed blessings.

"On one hand they are recruiting such young players and sometimes even the federation isn't aware of what's going on.

"Salaries are too low and Fiji, Tonga or Samoa lose out.

"That's what you hear from over there.

"On the positive side, it's a chance for the player to go abroad, to learn a different culture, to play better and to develop his game."

Stade Francais wingers Raisuqe and Waisea were arrested on July 23 after a fight.

Stade kept on last season's top try scorer Waisea after a warning, but sacked Raisuqe, who was subsequently taken on by second-flight outfit Never.

Rokocoko commented: "They went through a hard time. I met them a week after the incident, they said they'd made the wrong choice and they really regretted it.

"I tried to pass on this message that 'you're young, we all make mistakes, the important thing is to learn from them and move on'.

"It's hard for them and it's crucial to talk to them as the risk of depression is present ... they have to know that they will always have support, that they only have to come and talk to us.

"This has been hard for them but it's a good way for us, for Fijian players, to open our eyes, it could also happen to us."

Rokocoko, capped 68 times by New Zealand, says the PRPW has a vital role to play in ensuring Pacific Island players' wellbeing overseas.

"It's more than just a window dressing, especially for those suffering from depression. We've had cases of suicide (Tarbes winger Isireli Temo ended his life in 2016), and regret not having acted earlier.

"For a French person, they think that just because the player has a smile, everything is fine.

"But that's normal, they don't express their feelings, they don't reveal their problems.

"In Fiji, we smile, and carry on.

"That's a mentality we are trying to change, to get the Fijian players to talk about their problems, to share things, so that they don't feel homesick."

Rokocoko suggests better preparation at home will help Fijians adapt quicker to life in the Top 14.

"I don't know if the academies already do this but they should have one month courses on French life, to learn about taxes, and everything a player needs to know before leaving home.

"That would ensure that Fijians don't come here without knowing the French system, what their contract involves, so he's treated fairly and that he won't be in for any nasty surprises."

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