A potential and historic transformation of rugby in the Pacific Islands takes a big step by confirming World Rugby financial and administrative support package that will make it easier for two teams to join the Super Rugby since 2022.
Subject to approval by the New Zealand Rugby Council and if certain key conditions are met, the World Rugby Executive Committee approved an annual financial package £ 1.2m for an initial period of three years to support two franchises, Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika. Both franchises will be supported by their respective unions and private funding.
The decision was made after a detailed financial, commercial and performance feasibility study made with New Zealand Rugby and the respective unions. Financing is conditional on these franchises meeting the financial criteria necessary for entry.
The decision is aligned with the core objectives of the World Rugby Strategic Plan to increase the competitiveness of international rugby and, ultimately, the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup. It supports the ambition to develop local players to be international players in the three nations, giving each union the best opportunity to develop its potential on the international stage.
The announcement completes a journey that began when the international federation’s Rugby Committee met in Suva in 2016 to discuss opportunities to further support Pacific Island rugby on and off the field of play. If accepted to Super Rugby, teams will complete the World Rugby High Performance journey from the Pacific Challenge that ended with the annual Pacific Combine to international rugby. Together with Fiji Rugby and the Fiji government, World Rugby secured Fiji Drua’s participation in the Australian National Rugby Championship, which they won on their second attempt in 2018.
Since its inception in 2018, 75 players graduated from the Pacific Combine, with 17 representing the Pacific Islands on the international stage, including seven at Rugby World Cup 2019 and twelve on the Fiji squad at the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020.
The President of World Rugby Sir Bill Beaumont said: “The Executive Committee’s decision to support the Pacific Super Rugby franchises has the potential to change the game and should not be underestimated. From a strategic perspective, it offers the best possible platform and path for islanders to reach their potential. “
“On a human level, it’s the right thing to do. It’s great for the players, allowing them to decide for the first time to be part of a local professional team at the high elite level of rugby. “
“Recognizing that there are still steps to be completed, I want to thank everyone involved, including unions other than New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, for their full commitment to the project, which is fantastic for rugby.”
World Rugby Vice President Bernard Laporte commented: “I fully support this ambitious project to integrate the South Pacific Islands into Super Rugby. This is beneficial for the development of world rugby. “
World Rugby High Performance General Manager Peter Horne added: “We are committed to increasing global competitiveness in both men’s and women’s rugby. By supporting these Super Rugby franchises, we are completing a significant journey of competition, from the local to the international level for the players of the South Pacific Islands. This is in line with the focus we have been taking on other strategically important markets such as North America, South America, Japan and Europe. “
Fiji Rugby Union CEO John O’Connor believes that the development is one of the most important in the history of rugby in Fiji. “We are happy with the prospect of Fijian Drua joining Super Rugby in 2022. It will be a dream come true not only for rugby in Fiji but in the South Pacific. We have been asking for this opportunity and it is now within reach.”
“It is what we lack in our Pacific rugby, and very important for Fijian rugby. Being included in Super Rugby completes our elite path and will give our best players the ability to play professional rugby at home. “
“We are not there yet. However, we are working hard to meet all the requirements set by the NZR, including the strict financial diligence requirements by the end of March to satisfy the NZR Council that we will be able to have a strong team in the field of game and be a sustainable and profitable franchise. “
The Lakapi Samoa CEO Vincent Fepuleai He added: “This is a big step for Lakapi Samoa and Pacific Island rugby. We have relied on our players abroad to represent Manu Samoa, but Moana Pasifika offers the missing link and a path for our players to stay in the Southern Hemisphere. We are very grateful to World Rugby for this opportunity. ”
The Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding added: “World Rugby’s renewed investment in High Yield is welcome news for Tonga rugby. Investment is key to nurturing the way to ‘Ikale Thai. World Rugby’s combination of investment and commitment in assisting in development paths for the new Moana Pasifika franchise shows that the relationship between the three organizations will make a healthy contribution towards ensuring that rugby in the Pacific is strong and stable going forward. “
Inclusion in Super Rugby will be a significant push for players who want to stay close to home and represent a truly historic project and it is a move that has player representation at the center of the decision-making process.
The President of Pacific Rugby Players Hale T Pole He said: “Our work behind the scenes for many years with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and World Rugby led to this moment. We are close to achieving a situation that I was not sure was possible, and this financing for both teams is a strong push to achieve this historic project. “
The Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke He added: “The birth of these two professional teams is a huge step forward for Pacific players and rugby in general. International rugby needs the Pacific to be strong. There is nothing more important to both Drua and Moana Pasifika that they are strongly connected to the Pacific Unions, the island communities and the World Rugby High Performance program and its funding, which will ensure this. “