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Competitive Super Rugby franchises are in Suva, Apia and Nuku’alofa

Selestino Ravutaumada. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

The answer has been right under our noses all along.

Japan? Argentina? Occasional talk of a foray into North America?

If New Zealand wants competitive Super Rugby franchise opponents, then they’re in Suva, Apia and Nuku’alofa.

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Rugby needs uncertainty, not foregone conclusions.

And any team going to play the Fijian Drua in Fiji will – as the humbled Hurricanes can tell you – get a contest.

The argument against allowing the Drua to play in Fiji full-time or to base Moana Pasifika in Samoa or Tonga – instead of Auckland – has always been commerce.

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Well, what’s commercial about New Zealand’s teams thrashing overseas ones here? Are fans rushing through the turnstile when the Rebels or Force come to town?

It’s watching good rugby that generates interest, and with it income.

We could have had teams in the Pacific Islands in Super Rugby for years now. We could have built rivalries, had epic encounters and created a financial model to sustain rugby in those countries.

In turn, perhaps nations, such as France, would not be the ones to cash in on the Fijian rugby production line. Or New Zealand, for that matter.

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How good was it when the All Blacks finally played Samoa in Apia, back in 2015? How hard was it for New Zealand to prevail in that game? Was rugby itself not the big winner out of that venture?

Yet it remains a one-off, to be remembered fondly but probably never replicated.

I’m not going to round on Super Rugby or catalogue its ills.

But I am going to say that watching the Drua play in Fiji is perhaps the best advertisement the competition has got.

Engaged fans, willing players, unpredictable results: what more could rugby want?

Thinking big hasn’t necessarily been better for Super Rugby or New Zealand Rugby, who probably have some decisions to make about the future of Moana Pasifika.

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Yes, it was heartening to see Moana Pasifika push the Blues to the brink of defeat, but few people were in the stands to watch it.

Thinking small and nurturing the sport in the islands and giving players a genuine, homegrown pathway to professional rugby might well have been better for everyone.

Tonga, Samoa and Fiji could have been among New Zealand’s fiercest test rivals, drawing thousands of fans to matches in those countries while also engaging the enormous Pacific diaspora here.

I’m glad the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika are now in Super Rugby. I marvel at their courage and ability to compete with opponents further up the rugby totem poll.

But I’m most taken by the potential of those two teams and the heights they might reach one day themselves.

It’s competitive rugby that should be used to fuel the commercial side of the game, not games against teams from places with a large population but little playing pedigree.

By further supporting Super Rugby Pacific’s newest franchises and giving them a greater opportunity to play at home, we can make money and we can be entertained.

I know I’ll be glued to the television when Drua and Moana meet in Lautoka in two weeks’ time.

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Comments

1 Comment
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isaac 408 days ago

Suva or Lautoka would be sold out if the All Blacks or Wallabies tour there...which has never happened in donkeys years...if NzR wants mo money, they could increase the capacity to 30, 000 but nzr wants money...rather than the islands, who will pay them to play Japan, while ABs will continue to win...I'm sure the ABs will struggle to get past Fiji in Fiji....I'm all for entertaining, exciting and enthralling rugby...whoever wins.....but that won't happs

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