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'Do the right thing': Lakapi Samoa boss urges Rugby Australia to stay in Super Rugby

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Lakapi Samoa chief executive Vincent Fepuleai has called on Rugby Australia [RA] to remain in Super Rugby Pacific following reports that Australia’s five franchises could soon leave the competition.

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RA chairman Hamish McLennan created a stir last month when he told media that RA is strongly considering forging ahead with Super Rugby on its own by creating a domestic competition to rival the NRL and AFL from 2024 onwards.

McLennan has reportedly informed New Zealand Rugby [NZR] chairman Stewart Mitchell of RA’s stance on the matter, and that “all bets are off” with NZR beyond the two organisations’ Super Rugby Pacific partnership, which expires next year.

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It’s widely perceived that an imbalanced split of broadcast revenue is at the heart of McLennan’s threat to ditch RA’s Kiwi counterparts, with NZR raking in a reported $98m from its broadcast partner Sky, the parent company of this publication.

That dwarfs the reported $36.3m deal RA has in place with Channel Nine and Stan, which was signed after previous versions of Super Rugby – involving teams from South Africa, Argentina and Japan – saw broadcast revenue shared evenly between participating unions.

McLennan reportedly has the backing of the RA board and Australia’s five Super Rugby Pacific sides, but many prominent rugby figures from New Zealand and Australia have since urged McLennan and RA to stay put in the competition.

That sentiment has since been supported by Fepuleai, the head of Samoa’s governing rugby body, who believes NZR and RA must “do the right thing” in any future iteration of Super Rugby Pacific regarding involvement from the Pacific Islands.

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This year’s inaugural edition of Super Rugby Pacific saw the inclusion of two Pacific Island franchises, the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, for the first time in Super Rugby history.

While the Drua and Moana Pasifika occupied the bottom two places on the league standings at the end of the season, both teams illustrated the value of having Pacific Island teams in the competition.

Not only did they secure a collective total of four breakthrough victories and remain competitive in various other defeats, the Drua and Moana Pasifika also provided the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan national squads with a large swathe of players.

All up, a total of 42 players from the Drua and Moana Pasifika were named by Fiji, Samoa and Tonga for the Pacific Nations Cup, highlighting the importance both franchises hold as development vehicles for the island nations in test rugby.

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It’s for that reason, as well as the captivating style of play implemented by both teams, that Fepuleai implored RA and NZR to include the Drua and Moana Pasifika in whatever format Super Rugby takes over the coming years.

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“I hope the major unions will do the right thing and include us in whatever competition or any changes of any format that goes on,” Fepuleai told the ABC’s Pacific Beat.

“It’s been proven in the last competition that both the Drua and Moana Pasifika added value to the competition because I think we play that different style of rugby that’s entertaining and can draw people to the gates.

“Not only that, but we have to look at the bigger picture at the global scale of things because the Rugby World Cup has remained the same over many years. It’s quite obvious that the same teams get to the quarters.

“The whole concept is to grow the game globally and to improve teams like Samoa and Tonga and Fiji to get into the top tiers and be able to play more regular test matches between tier one nations.”

Samoa’s bid – and that of Fiji and Tonga – to match rugby’s leading nations at international level received a significant boost earlier this year when World Rugby’s overhauled eligibility laws came into effect.

Those laws enable test-capped players to represent a second nation that they are eligible for via birthright (a country that either they, their parents or grandparents were born in) following a three-year stand down from international rugby.

That has opened up the prospect of numerous former internationals, most notably those who have previously played for the All Blacks and Wallabies, turning out for the Pacific Island nations.

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The likes of Israel Folau, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau have subsequently been picked to play for Tonga at the Pacific Nations Cup, while ex-All Blacks midfielder Seta Tamanivalu will debut for Fiji agains the ‘Ikale Tahi on Saturday.

Although Samoa are yet to select former internationals of that calibre, they have still utilised World Rugby’s new laws to pick former All Blacks Sevens representative Fritz Lee and ex-All Blacks squad member Jordan Taufua.

Former Wallabies squad member Duncan Paia’aua has also been included in Manu Samoa’s Pacific Nations Cup squad, and Fepuleai hinted that more headline names are set to be added to the Samoan set-up for the November test window.

“There’s quite a number of players that are going through that process at the moment, for the second half of the year,” Fepuleai told Pacific Beat.

“We’ll probably see more coming over doing the northern hemisphere tour at the end of the year.

“Those players that you just mentioned [Lee and Taufua] that put their hand up and make themselves available after the regulations have changed, so we’re really excited for them to come and represent us.”

Samoa open their Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Australia A at ANZ National Stadium in Suva on Saturday.

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