The debate on naturalizing players may be a hot topic within the Malaysian football spectrum, but the Malaysian national rugby team has adopted the concept for a considerable amount of time now.
The nation is home to several naturalized players from the South Pacific region, particularly Fiji and American Samoa. The likes of Sae Falupega, Eto Vaka Saukuru and Vatimio Rabebe were all crucial to their achievements at the recent Asian Rugby Championship (Division 2), where they even secured a surprising win over UAE.
While some have called for the removal of this principle, renowned rugby commentator Capo Rod, who is also known as Syed Latiff, claims that the policy needs to be retained for the time being, as they play an integral role in Malaysia’s growth within the sport.
“They are a vital attacking recipe to the team as these Fijian players have been exposed to an environment from a very young age,” he told FourthOfficial.com
“Where they come from, rugby is not just a sport. It’s a religion, and they take their rugby very seriously. They may not be the best players in Fiji, but when they come to Malaysia, they are among the best.
“And you have to admit as well. Without these guys, our recent victory at the ARC would have been difficult to achieve, especially that win over UAE.
“Utilizing naturalized players is a common concept within the sport. Even the world champions, New Zealand, have a few naturalized Samoans, Tongans and Fijians within their team. But at the same time, these teams also have solid grassroot programs within their respective countries, to ensure continuous production of local talent as well.
“There have been calls to have a localized national team in Malaysia, but it’ll take us a few years to really be able to sustain and use local Malaysian players. To me, I think it’s fine to use naturalized players, but we need to be objective about developing the game and probably even have a quota on the amount of non-Malaysian players we can use at one time.
“That will allow us to develop our own talents as well,” he added.
While rugby is struggling to assert itself within the Malaysian fanbase, there’s no denying the fact that the Rugby World Cup is an event that’s widely watched in the country.
But Capo Rod believes that the country is still a considerable distance from being able to qualify for the World Cup one day, claiming that significant growth needs to first happen within the Asian level, before any talks on the prestigious World Cup, should ever erupt.
“There is only one automatic qualifying spot for Asia to the Rugby World Cup and one repechage match, which makes it much harder to qualify. In terms of player quality, we have some really good ones, that ply their trade overseas but we can’t compete with the likes of Japan and Hong Kong from Asia, let alone compete with world class teams like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England.
“Until we have a professional league and 20 professional players (at least), we must abstain from talking about the world cup. For now, the focus should be on gaining the top three spot in Asia.
“The higher our rank is, the more funding Malaysia Rugby Union will get from the World Rugby, to develop more talents in the future. Short term and long term planning is extremely vital to achieve this,” Capo Rod added.