World Rugby bid to boost Pacific rugby wins praise

Nemani Nadolo. Picture: RUGBY PASS.

WELLINGTON, 26 MARCH 2021 (AFP) – World Rugby Thursday received widespread support for backing plans to include two Pacific island teams in Super Rugby, with claims it could change the face of the international game.

Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo said that the concept could transform rugby union in the Pacific, where there is immense playing talent, but scarce financial resources to prevent top stars moving overseas.

“This will be massive exposure playing against some of the world’s best on a constant basis… a sleeping giant will be awoken!!” Nadolo wrote on Twitter.

Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare estimates that about 20 percent of all professional players come from islander backgrounds.

However, major hurdles remain before World Rugby’s push to add the Pacific islands to a southern hemisphere tournament from next year become reality.

The island nations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all boast a rich rugby heritage, and a wealth of playing talent, but have battled to overcome financial hardships and geographic isolation.

Players are often lured to foreign clubs and to receive lucrative contracts are quietly discouraged from playing for their national teams.

They also lack exposure to top opposition outside of World Cup years and head offshore to develop their playing skills, often switching allegiances to an adopted homeland once they meet residency requirements.

World Rugby said that including Pacific teams in Super Rugby would allow top talent to play professionally while remaining in the Pacific region.

“I’m lost for words … this will go beyond improving Pacific island rugby — it will change lives,” said Ben Ryan, the Englishman who coached Fiji’s sevens team to Olympic gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama called it “fantastic news.”

“Our boys have proved they belong in the Super Rugby circuit. I know I speak for every Fijian when I say it’s time we get this effort over the try line!” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter.

The fate of the two Pacific teams — the Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika — will ultimately be decided by New Zealand Rugby, which has emerged as Super Rugby’s de facto powerbroker.

The administration has made it clear that any Pacific teams in Super Rugby must be commercially viable and well governed.

Crucially, these are areas in which World Rugby has offered to help the Pacific bidders.

World Rugby is to provide £3.2 million (US$4.4 million) over three years to help cover costs, as well as supplying administrative and high-performance expertise.

However, the World Rugby money alone would not be enough to get the bids over the line financially.

The Fiji Rugby Union last month estimated that it needed at least NZ$10 million (US$7 million) to be viable.

It said costs included paying for a 37-man playing squad, plus another 28 in coaching and administration, as well as a contingency fund “if we have a bad year or two.”

That would require corporate backers with deep pockets, which are scarce in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, where the combined population is only about 1.5 million people.

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