Rugby World finds out what those in the Pacific Islands think of having a Super Rugby team
Why there needs to be a Pacific Islands Super Rugby team
Setting up a Pacific Islands Super Rugby team has long been mooted but the idea now seems to be getting closer to reality.
Super Rugby has introduced teams from Argentina and Japan in recent years, and another revamp is expected in 2020. That is when a Pacific Islands team could be introduced.
The New Zealand government recently released the findings of a feasibility study they had commissioned into basing a Super Rugby side on the Pacific Islands. While insisting such a team should be based in Fiji, Samoa or Tonga – Fiji’s capital Suva looks the most likely location – the report also said that playing a game either on the West Coast of America or on Hawaii would allow them to tap into new markets of large Pacific populations overseas.
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There are other obvious benefits. It creates a route to professional rugby for players based in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga without having to head overseas and would give the unions easier access to their best players while also making them more likely to represent their home nation than qualify on residency elsewhere.
There are still issues to be addressed, not least how the team would be funded, but World Rugby could decide to back such a project as they did with Argentina’s inclusion in the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby through the Jaguares.
When Rugby World was in Fiji and Samoa recently, we asked some of the key figures in the game there what they thought of a possible Super Rugby franchise and we received an overwhelmingly positive response.
Here’s what they said…
Samoa Rugby Union CEO Vincent Fepuleai
“It’s a great idea and it’s a great opportunity for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to play in that competition. From our point of view, we just want somebody to be able to fund it. We support it, but it all comes down to money.
“An independent franchise with a mandate of having Pacific Islands players in the team looks most likely. Fiji is probably the right place for it to be logistically.
“SANZAAR will decide whether to expand and a lot of work is going on behind scenes to find the right investors to be able to get it off the ground. Running it separately from the unions is a must.”
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu
“There are a lot of positives. One of the biggest ones for me is it keeps a lot of my players here. The biggest issue we have is most of our players are throughout Europe playing in different competitions, so the logistics of gathering together for a campaign are quite a challenge.
“If I had most players here playing Super Rugby I could keep in contact quite easily and track them a lot better. The Super Rugby programmes are much better than France, too, in terms of player welfare and tactical.”
Fiji coach John McKee
“A Super Rugby team is one of the missing pieces in the jigsaw of Pacific Islands rugby. It would help the Pacific to have more talented players at home. Players would still go to Europe, but they could certainly set their career off through pathways here and other Pacific nations.
“It would be a massive benefit for us and the Super Rugby season fits perfectly with the international season.
“With a Super Rugby franchise operating out of the Pacific, we could have an academy system underneath feeding into the professional team. It would all give Pacific coaches valuable experience in professional environment and that would strengthen the domestic rugby.
“For me there seems to be a bit of a shift with support from some quarters for this to happen. It needs to be financially stable and not take money out of the Pacific Island unions because we have to run our own domestic games and national team competitions. So we need support from other funding sources. There are a lot of challenges but it’s very exciting.”
Samoa General Manager of High Performance Zane Hilton
“In reality the players are not going to be from the existing national programme. It does however give the island nations a huge opportunity to have a pathway for players coming out of Samoa A and potential Manu Samoa players to play professional rugby.
“We’ll back it and certainly support it, it just has to be done in a fair and equitable way.”
Don’t miss Rugby World’s Pacific Islands special – the September 2018 issue is on sale until the end of August.
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