By Rachel King
Two Super Rugby fixtures are to be played in the Pacific Islands this year for the first time in the competitions history.
The Waikato Chiefs hosted the Canterbury Crusaders in Suva last year, making Fiji the first island nation to take part. This year the Chiefs will return to Fiji on 19 May, facing the Crusaders again, along with another Pacific Islands fixture when the Auckland’s Blues host the Queensland Reds in Apia, Samoa on 2 June.
The location change comes after it was reported last year that Ben Ryan, the English coach who guided Fiji to their gold medal in the Rio sevens, had secured £20 million of backing to establish a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji. Although Fiji’s Rugby Union said they had no knowledge of the sponsorship negotiations.
In an interview with the Telegraph Ryan claimed the new team could see Fiji win the World Cup one day. “We have shown in sevens what we can do. And if you just look at the impact the Fiji players are having on the tier one countries, they are their star players in New Zealand, Australia, England and France.
“That generation has gone but the future players are there and we have to make sure they stay on the island and they get the right resources, the right coaching and the fundamentals around it, like we did with the sevens, so there is no reason why we can’t dominate.”
The moves to include Fiji and Samoa in Super Rugby have been widely hailed as having the potential to end the Pacific Islands player drain woes. Players from the Pacific Islands or of Pacific Island descent make up around 18% of the world’s leading professional teams, but many choose to play abroad for better opportunities and pay.
Virimi Vakatawa and Nathan Hughes were both born in Fiji but have been chosen for the France and England squads respectively in the Six Nations this year, after qualifying under residency rules.
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