The Southland Times
Pasifika teams set for kickoff
Two Pacific teams get conditional go-ahead to join Super Rugby
Sir Michael Jones believes yesterday’s decision to formally open the Super Rugby door to two Pacific Island entities is a landmark moment, not just for those rugbymad nations, but indeed for the sport in general.
New Zealand Rugby announced that conditional licences have been granted to Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua to join a new Super Rugby competition from next year.
The decision follows World Rugby recently granting a £1.2m (NZ$2.3 million) annual funding package for an initial three-year period to support the two franchises in joining Super Rugby from 2022.
New Zealand Rugby said its board’s decision to approve the licences was a big step towards the two Pasifika teams joining the existing five Super Rugby Aotearoa franchises and Rugby Australia’s five Super Rugby AU teams in a new competition being planned for 2022. It remains conditional on their final business plans and RA’s signoff.
Jones, the All Blacks great who also made one appearance for Manu Samoa, had been a big part of getting the inclusion of the two Pacific Island sides over the line through his position on the board of NZ Rugby.
‘‘It’s hugely significant,’’ he told Stuff at the announcement. ‘‘You can’t begin to understand how big this is. It’s a landmark moment I believe to potentially see a shift and a mechanism to move Samoan and Tongan rugby in particular, and to continue to grow and build, and start to fulfil that true potential we’ve always known is there.
‘‘In that sense it’s a real groundbreaking moment in the journey for Pacific rugby.’’
Initially at least the Moana Pasifika team will be based in south Auckland. The organisation is investigating the use of Mount Smart Stadium as a home venue, while Pukekohe’s Navigation Homes Stadium has also been cited.
The Drua are set to be based in Suva and closely aligned to the Fiji national union.
Jones said he did not believe that the Moana Pasifika side would in any way compromise existing pathways for rugby players of Pacific heritage in the New Zealand system.
‘‘I’ve always been clear in my mind the power of the All Blacks dream is such that for those of us particularly born in New Zealand, we are always going to pursue that dream. I don’t think that will ever change.
‘‘But this does allow those who are of Pacific descent who might have been born there, or might have grown up there, or might see an opportunity to represent their parents – and we’ve heard that kind of rhetoric in the past from some of the boys – to potentially represent Moana Pasifika.’’
And Jones does not see Moana Pasifika in any way compromising what the Blues are doing, both in terms of fan engagement and player recruitment and development.
‘‘We are going to get a lot of young Pasifika who might not have otherwise pathwayed into the Blues system,’’ Jones said. ‘‘The Blues system is sophisticated and powerful, and the cream of what the Blues will continue to look for will continue to go through the Blues system.
‘‘But what you will see is a lot of talent that might not otherwise have been picked up in this programme. That’s great for rugby, and great for young people in Pacific communities.’’
While the approval is conditional, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson is confident the two teams will play in the new competition. Robinson said both expansion franchises had made “immense progress” over the last two months and he was confident they could soon begin the crucial process of assembling teams.