The Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika could be confirmed as the newest Super Rugby teams within a “couple of weeks” after a further funding boost from World Rugby.
The governing body has agreed to spend more than $NZ7 million over the next three years to support the establishment of two new Pacific Island Super Rugby teams.
The Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika were announced in November as New Zealand Rugby’s preferred partners to join an expanded 12-team competition in 2022, subject to a range of conditions.
Pacific Rugby Players CEO, Aayden Clarke, said both teams were close to fulfilling the necessary criteria.
“We’re hoping that we’ll get some clarity on that probably in April and this funding boost for both those teams, along with the work that they’re doing with private investors is obviously a huge shot in the arm for the opportunity to get this across the line and get both teams into the competition.”
There’s never been a better opportunity than now to get a Pacific Island Super Rugby team across the line, Clarke said.
“We’ve got all parties who have genuine interest in trying to make it happen, which is a first, and we’re pretty confident that all the work that’s going in is going to get both teams to the level that’s acceptable.”
World Rugby’s support was conditional on the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika satisfying the necessary financial criteria for entry, with both teams needing to raise $NZ10 million to prove to New Zealand Rugby they can be sustainable.
“New Zealand Rugby are working very closely with both organisations through Jeremy Curragh who is leading that project and helping really uplift both of them to get them there – not simply just asking them to provide all the evidence,” Clarke said.
“So it’s a collaborative approach: NZR, ourselves, New Zealand Rugby Players Assocation and the various unions that are connected. It’s plenty of people at the table trying to get this done.”
Aayden Clarke said the financial support from World Rugby was a “no-brainer”.
“Their mandate here, especially in the Pacific, is all about trying to improve the three unions to get them to the quarters and semis and beyond at a Rugby World Cup, and two franchise professional teams out of the Pacific would always be a huge contributor to that and it’s been the missing piece, so what we’re seeing through this investment is World Rugby recognising that and trying to uplift them.”
New Zealand Rugby was expected to confirm the final make-up of next year’s Super Rugby competition some time in April.
The Drua and Moana Pasifika would need to contract at least 37 players for their maiden campaign and Aayden Clarke expected the day after any official announcement would be very busy.
“The market across the world at the moment for players is still a competitive one but there’s opportunity there both franchises, especially in this Covid environment,” he said.
“I know that across the world there’s plenty of Pacific Island players who are watching the developments here waiting, agents trying to clarity but all those discussions have been at low levels with those types of parties.
“Nothing really solid can happen until the licences have been agreed and then things will really ramp up.”
Pacific Island teams in Super Rugby “long overdue” – Savea
The All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea said having Pacific Island teams in Super Rugby was long overdue.
The Hurricanes captain, whose parents are both from Samoa, said Pacific Islands rugby deserved help after contributing so much to the sport.
“Bringing Pacific Island teams into the competition, I think it’s long overdue.
“There are some (Pacific Island) players in the world that have played the game of rugby have been the best and have lit up the game. It would be amazing to see World Rugby and the whole rugby community give back (to the Pacific).”
Savea said it was great that World Rugby had agreed to provide money to support the establishment of two new Pacific Island Super Rugby teams, but he won’t be celebrating until the vision becomes a reality.
“Talking about it is sweet, but we want to see some action,” he said.
“It would be amazing to have Pacific Island teams come into the competition that can help grow the game in the islands and inspire their youth to be able to grow up and look at these teams that are competing in Super Rugby and aspire to be there and from there they go on and represent their countries, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.”
The Hurricanes captain also believed some of New Zealand’s top talent would choose to play for Moana Pasifika if they were granted entry into Super Rugby.
“For the teams to be able to compete at that level, having some players already in New Zealand playing for them would be needed. But, at the end of the day we want to grow the island players and give them opportunities. So, a good mix. But just having two (Pacific Island) teams in the competition (Super Rugby) is a great, great win.”