England v Fiji: Dan Leo eyes World Cup win for Pacific Islands nation

Dan Leo (centre) tackles England's Tom Voyce
Dan Leo (centre) played 39 Tests for Samoa plus three for the combined Pacific Islands side
England v Fiji
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 19 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Live radio and text commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and the BBC Sport website; highlights on BBC Two (repeated Sunday)

Former Samoa captain Dan Leo says he has "big dreams" for Pacific Island rugby, and hopes a team from the islands will one day win the World Cup.

Leo retired from international rugby in 2015 after speaking out against the way the Samoan Rugby Union is run.

He is now leading a campaign to help the welfare of players from the Pacific Islands who are in playing in England.

Leo told BBC 5 live a Pacific Island World Cup win is "within our capabilities; we have the talent".

He added that "a whole lot of steps need to be taken before that becomes a reality".

His goal is "to see in my lifetime one of the Pacific Island teams win the Rugby World Cup".

In rugby terms, the Pacific Islands commonly refers to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, who are all inside the top 15 in World Rugby's rankings.

The Fiji side that faces England at Twickenham this Saturday will have a familiar look to those who follow Premiership rugby.

The likes of Campese Ma'afu, Akapusi Qera, Niki Goneva, Niko Matawalu and Asaeli Tikoirotuma either play or have played their club rugby in England, while in another life Nathan Hughes of Wasps and Bath's Semesa Rokoduguni would be wearing the white of Fiji and not England.

Nathan Hughes
"To play for England is not all about money. It is about representing the country and representing where I live and where I play my rugby," Hughes told BBC Radio 5 live

Of the 70-plus players of Pacific Island heritage in the Premiership, six are in the England squad, while it's estimated that 18% of all professional rugby union players worldwide are of Pacific Island heritage; a remarkable statistic considering the combined population of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji is a little over one million people.

Leo established the Rugby Players' Association Cultural Diversity Programme in August, and works with the 72 players of Samoan, Fijian or Tongan heritage who operate in the Premiership, providing advice on a variety of social and financial issues.

"The programme is about increasing communication at all levels," the former Wasps lock explained.

"Our [Pacific Island] cultures are very indirect and hierarchical. It would be very disrespectful to ask questions of those in authority, like coaches.

"So part of the RPA programme is to up-skill players in the Premiership about the cultural differences.

Fijian-born players representing other nations
Many Fijian-born players, like Wasps' Nathan Hughes, have chosen to represent other nations at Test level, after completing three years of residency

"Culturally we are not encouraged to verbalise our frustrations, talk and ask questions.

"Therefore it is very easy to act those frustrations out physically, either off the field or on it."

Leo has already been able to make a difference in helping Pacific Island players acclimatise to life in England.

"I've come across a Pacific Island player here in the Premiership who didn't like his nickname, and saw it as a big sign of disrespect," Leo continues.

"For six months he just wanted to leave the club, but when I explained it is a sign of endearment and once he understood that he was so happy.

"And he has now gone to being one of their top performers."

Leo says he wants to use his own experiences as a young player in England to help others.

Dan Leo
Leo joined Wasps from Australian side Queensland Reds and made his Premiership debut against Northampton Saints in February 2006

"I struggled when I came here," he admitted. "I was summoned to court twice for things like unpaid TV license and council tax.

"It may seem trivial to people who have grown up here and understand the system, but if you are coming from a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, even trying to get things like a driver's licence can be quite difficult."

As well as talking to players across the game, Leo has visited a number of Premiership clubs, educating their administrators about the challenges facing Pacific Island players who have relocated to England.

"There are players over here who send a lot of money home to try and maintain the connection with their families and communities back in the Islands," Leo added.

"I've come across players who are supporting entire villages off their salaries. So it's very important the [Premiership] club understands the pressure these guys are under.

"If something happens back at home where the player requires a bit of money up front, it's important that communication is clear with the clubs."

Leo plans to expand his programme into France, and has expressed his concern at the lack of assistance available to Pacific Islanders across the Channel.

Virimi Vakatwa scores a try
Fijian-born Virimi Vakatawa represents France in both sevens and Test rugby

For now, he accepts that players will inevitably leave the Islands in order to play professional rugby overseas, but hopes in time that may change.

A Fijian side will join the Australia National Rugby Championship next year - a significant move according to Leo - while plans are afoot to set up a Pacific Island-based team in Super Rugby.

"A Pacific Island side being involved in Super Rugby would be another great step," he said.

"I'm in regular touch with [World Rugby vice-chairman] Agustin Pichot, and he is a big supporter of Pacific Island rugby and Tier Two rugby.

"So having someone like that voicing the issues around the table is massive for us, and we have every faith in him."

Hear more from Dan Leo on Matt Dawson's Rugby Show on 5 live on Thursday evening. The former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan is among Matt Dawson's studio guests.

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