Samoa forward Lam hopes choosing country over a club will help spark change

Jack Lam hopes his decision to place national pride ahead of personal gain can spark lasting change for Samoa.

Back-row forward Lam was released by Premiership club Bristol, and then as a free agent he rejected a lucrative move to France to head instead to the World Cup.

The club contracts on offer in France had strings attached: the deals were conditional on Lam missing the World Cup in Japan with his national side.

Rugby Union – Test Match – Barbarians v Samoa – The Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Jack Lam, pictured, wants Samoa to leave the World Cup on a high with a strong performance against Ireland on Saturday (David Davies/PA)

The 31-year-old made the brave, and financially costly, decision to put Samoa first, and has admitted hoping such principled stands will shine a light on the murkier concerns for Pacific Islands talents.

“There were a couple of contracts in France that I could’ve taken but they had the condition that I had to turn down playing for Samoa in the World Cup and in the future as well,” said Lam.

“I just couldn’t do that to myself and the jersey and it just didn’t cross my mind; it was a no-brainer.”

Samoa arrived in Japan without a clutch of Europe-based stars who, just like Lam, were told heading to the World Cup would jeopardise their club futures.

Many of the Pacific Islands’ finest talents head abroad to maximise their earning potential in order to provide for entire village communities, not just an extended family.

Lam has laid a possible future six-figure salary on the line in favour of national pride, and yet fully understands why others were not able to follow suit.

While the combative flanker did not delve into any structural or political issues, Lam’s calls for change ultimately fall at the bosses of top leagues and World Rugby.

“It was a bit of a risk, especially for my family, but my my family were all behind my decision,” said Lam.

“Hopefully in the future it will change and we won’t have these kind of problems where we have to pick certain players.”

Embattled Samoa might have shaken off losing Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u to three-week bans but could not avoid defeats to Scotland and Japan that bar their way to the knockout stages.

Saturday’s Fukuoka clash with Ireland represents a chance to close their tournament on their own terms then, with Lam intent on the team producing something special.

Ireland’s New Zealand-born centre of Samoan heritage Bundee Aki might have close bonds with Lam and his team-mates, but the Connacht star can expect no special favours on the field.

#ManuSamoa is using the facilities of local Fukuoka rugby club – the Red Sparks – to prepare for Saturday night’s showdown against Ireland #rwc2019pic.twitter.com/chH9sVNaTh

— Manu Samoa Rugby (@manusamoa) October 9, 2019

“For us as players, we want to leave with a bit of pride in the jersey. We still have a lot to play for, in terms of trying to qualify for the next World Cup and obviously for the future of rugby in Samoa,” said Lam.

“We have no special presents for Bundee, he’ll get the same treatment as everyone else.

“Most of the boys are pretty close with Bundee, a couple of boys have seen him during the week, so we are still friends off the field but when we cross the line we are exactly the same.”

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