Fiji international Josh Matavesi is backing plans to launch a combined Pacific Islands team into the Super Rugby competition in 2021 if the new franchise is controlled by someone from outside Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
Matavesi, who is preparing for Newcastle’s daunting Aviva Premiership play off semi-final against reigning champions Exeter at Sandy Park on Saturday, is adamant involving a franchise chief without any links to the Islands would be vital to ensure the team steers clear of allegations of corruption that have previously dogged the sport in that region.
The 27-year-old utility back said: “Corruption has been a factor since money got involved in the game and each Island has had its own problems with people taking their bit of the pie.
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“For me, any Super Rugby team would have to be controlled by someone with experience of running a sports team and I don’t think they should be from the Islands. It should be someone without any links so there are no tendencies to take a bit of pie and go away for a couple of years and then come back in another job.”
“To start, it may have to be just one team in Super Rugby because of the help that is needed but as it develops the goal could be that Tonga, Fiji and Samoa have their own teams. With time and a good structure the team could be deadly. Coaching is being developed in the Islands and in Fiji we are in a good place at the moment with good strength in depth.”
Last year Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, rubbished claims there had been “corruption” and “mismanagement” in the handling of the Union’s financial support from World Rugby.
The Fiji Rugby Union has been battling to regain lost ground after the International Rugby Board ( now World Rugby) suspended financial support in 2014 and demanded fundamental changes in the FRU’s administration.
It is estimated that more than 700 Islander players are currently earning money playing in Europe and in a move aimed at trying to provide a home-based alternative the New Zealand government has conducted a study into the possibility of launching a combined Pacific Islands Super Rugby team. Known as the “Pacific Force”, the team would feature players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga with the side to be based in Suva, with home matches to be played in all three countries as well as Auckland and Sydney.
Player unrest over financial support has been a feature of recent tours by Islands nations to the Northern Hemisphere where the disparity between the haves and have nots of World rugby has been brought sharply into focus.
Samoa are currently trying to find out how many of their overseas based players will be available for their World Cup qualifying matches with Germany or Portugal in Apia on June 30, with the return match in Europe on July 14.
Matavesi, capped 17 times by Fiji, was born in Cornwall with an English mother and Fijian father, and is proud of his Island heritage and wants to break back into the national team for next year’s World Cup in Japan.
He added: “For me, being able to play in different positions will hopefully give me a shot at being part of the World Cup squad and there is a still a season to go until then. For now, it is about helping Newcastle beat Exeter and to reach the Premiership final at Twickenham.”
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