Bernard Jackman believes Polynesian players are experiencing huge exploitation in the lower rungs of French rugby.
While hundreds of players from the Pacific islands have been lured to France by unscrupulous agents promising the moon and the stars, many wrestle with dire employment terms and unsustainable financial demands on their arrival in the country.
Jackman, who is the head coach at Top 14 side Grenoble, hasn’t been surprised by the influx of Polynesians into French rugby, but their treatment by ruthless representatives has left him dismayed.
“There are so many Polynesian players at all levels of professional rugby because they’re gifted genetically, they’re made for combat and they’re incredibly skilled,” he told Game On host John Kenny on RTÉ 2fm.
"We’ve one player that pretty much supports his whole village"
“Unfortunately for them - or fortunately for the clubs - they’re cheaper than the local players.
“In France particularly, there are a huge amounts of cowboy agents, who entice these players from the Islands, particularly Fiji, to come to France to lower-level clubs.
“Once they get here, they’re exploited.”
Jackman may operate in the lucrative top tier of French rugby, where he insisted Polynesian players were offered far greater protection from preying agents, but the former Ireland hooker revealed the huge role remittances play in the lives of players and communities back home.
“We’ve three Fijians, and we’ve Samoans and Tongans,” he said of his current Grenoble squad.
“A lot of those send nearly all their money back to the Islands and we’ve one player that pretty much supports his whole village.
“That’s just the way it is. He doesn’t see any issue with that. It’s just the way he’s been brought up.
“They share, so if someone in the village does well, all the money goes back there.”
“Clubs can play on that, they can pay them half their salary, but the issue is that there are families back in Fiji or Tonga or Samoa who are waiting for that money to buy food”
While the streets of France may prove paved with gold for a privileged few due to their mastery of the oval ball, those that fail to make it to the Rue d’Or that is the Top 14 often buckle due to their financial commitments thousands of miles away.
“In the Top 14, they have a lot more protection,” Jackman explained.
“But when you go down to Fédérale 1, Fédérale 2 - domestic leagues in France where they mightn’t be fully professional but there are contracts - those players are always on a borderline as to whether they’re going to get paid next month.
“Clubs can play on that, they can pay them half their salary, but the issue is that there are families back in Fiji or Tonga or Samoa who are waiting for that money to buy food.”
The burden can prove too much for even the broadest of shoulders and Jackman believes the judiciary has provided these beleaguered players with scant help.
“French law is unbelievably slow,” the 40-year-old lamented.
“If you were to take a court case against the club - and a lot of foreigners in the past have tried to - they just kick it to touch for so long.
“It can take you three or four years.
“Most players don’t have the mental fortitude or the financial power to actually stick with that process.
“Clubs know, at a lower level, they can treat a foreigner pretty badly and know that probably down the road there won’t be any repercussions for them because another Fijian or Samoan or Tongan will be desperate for an opportunity, and will hope that it won’t happen to them."