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'Definitely keen': Moana Pasifika eager to take home games to Pacific Islands

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika has outlined its desire to take Super Rugby Pacific matches to the Pacific Islands following last week’s spectacle between the Fijian Drua and Highlanders in Suva.

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The Highlanders notched their second win of the season in front of a sold-out and boisterous ANZ National Stadium crowd of 15,000 in what was the Drua’s first-ever home Super Rugby Pacific match after having based themselves in Australia this year.

The occasion illustrated the passion Fijian fans have for their side, and a similarly rapturous crowd is expected when the Drua return to Fiji to host the Chiefs in Lautoka later this month.

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Suva’s scenes of fanfare and excitement about having a Super Rugby Pacific team of their own caught the attention of Moana Pasifika, with assistant coach Filo Tiatia expressing his eagerness to host a game of their own in the Pacific Islands at some stage.

“I’m with you, 100 percent. How good was that Drua crowd? 15,000 screaming Fijians. We’ve got a couple Fijians in our team and they’re pretty loud, just a couple of them,” Tiatia joked earlier this week.

“It’s certainly something we’d love to do, have the honour and pleasure to play in Tonga or Samoa, or even in any Pacific nation and representing Moana Pasifika.

“We’re definitely keen to look at that and really connect with our people in those islands, so 100 percent.”

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Despite being a representation of the Pacific Islands in Super Rugby Pacific, Moana Pasifika are based in New Zealand and play at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.

It’s there where the New Zealand Rugby-backed side will be based until 2028, with the franchise confirming last September that Mt Smart Stadium will be its home base for its first seven seasons of existence.

That means the possibility of Moana Pasifika being permanently based out of the Pacific Islands, namely Samoa and/or Tonga, won’t come to fruition until 2029 at the earliest.

However, upon the announcement of Mt Smart Stadium as the team’s home ground, Moana Pasifika patron Sir Bryan Williams said the franchise was committed to taking matches to Samoa and Tonga once international borders reopened.

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“As the competition evolves and subject to international borders being open, our intention is to play games in Samoa and Tonga and expand our presence across our Moana,” Williams said in a statement last September.

“To grow the game in the Pacific, we need to inspire our young players from an early age. They’ll see their heroes run out on the field in Moana Pasifika colours and believe that they can be just like them when they grow up.”

With resumption of international travel to and from New Zealand, the opportunity to take home matches to Samoa and Tonga has become available from next season onwards.

Before then, though, the new expansion franchise will return to Mt Smart Stadium for the first time in nearly six weeks when they host the Waratahs on Saturday.

The Waratahs head into that clash as favourites following their shock win over the Crusaders last week, but Moana Pasifika playmaker Christian Lealiifano is simply relishing the chance to play in front of his home fans for the first time since March.

“Really excited. It’s been bit of a journey and a long time away from home,” he said.

“Now that we’ve sort of got fans and everyone at games now, we’d love to see a big turnout of our people to watch their team and support two great teams ready to put on a good showcase on Saturday night.”

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