Fiji coach John McKee lobbies SANZAAR for Pacific Island inclusion
28 September, 2018, 4:30 pm
SUVA, (FOX SPORTS) -There is still no Pacific Super Rugby team, but Fiji coach John McKee has urged SANZAAR to consider adding the island nation to an expanded Rugby Championship.
“It would be great for rugby in this region for a Pacific team to be in either Super Rugby or the Rugby Championship — or both,” McKee told foxsports.com.au.
“I think there will be change around the competitions in the next cycle and there will likely be more of a push for the Rugby Championship to perhaps expand.
“I’m not in any of those talks, but I’d love to see it happen.
“For a country like Fiji it would really be a massive, massive boost to our game and help us improve our international competitiveness.”
For a country of less than a million people, Fiji are a proud rugby nation.
They are currently ranked 10th in the world in XVs but sevens rugby is a national obsession and they are the reigning Olympic champions.
Fiji was also hugely competitive against heavyweights Australia, England and Wales at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and last week World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont tipped Fiji as a smoky for the 2019 global tournament in Japan.
The Rugby Championship, previously the Tri Nations, expanded to include Argentina in 2012 while the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares were added to Super Rugby in 2016.
Argentina earned those spots with consistently competitive performances while SANZAAR also recognised the need to grow the game and increase its footprint in South America.
The exposure is paying off — the Jaguares qualified for their first finals appearance this season while the Pumas snapped a 35 year drought on Australian soil by upsetting the Wallabies on the Gold Coast earlier this month.
SANZAAR has cited concerns over infrastructure and economic viability as reasons for caution but Super Rugby or Rugby Championship inclusion would be just reward for the Pacific region’s huge contribution to the sport.
McKee said it would mean local talent wouldn’t be forced offshore for opportunities and believed a Pacific team would also help reinvigorate struggling Super Rugby, with the region’s fans some of the most passionate in the game.
“Even if it was based out of Fiji you’d see a number of Samoan and Tongan players playing in that team as well,” McKee said.
“Just because Super Rugby really fits in with the international calendar.
“We’d have more of our top players playing closer to home or at home in Super Rugby rather than playing in Europe which has its challenges.
“I honestly believe it would be a great boost for the competition.
“The competition needs something different.
“It needs something to really re-energise the fans and having a Pacific brand of rugby in Super Rugby could do that.”