A combined Pacific Islands team could be launched as a Super Rugby franchise based in Hawaii in 2020 after a group of American football players from the region offered USD$4.5m to make the concept a reality.
The Super Rugby team, made up of players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, would be designed to counter the constant drain of talent from the Islands to other rugby playing nations and Fiji coach John McKee believes entering Super Rugby or even the Rugby Championship could be a game changer for the region’s players.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi ,Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, has revealed that a group of Pacific Islanders involved in the United States National Football League (NFL) are to offer to finance the combined Pacific Islands Rugby franchise for Super Rugby sanctioned by the SANZAAR.
He told Radio New Zealand International; “We have a Good Samaritan; the organisation of Pacific Players playing for the American Sports who are interested in funding a Super Rugby team, and I think that is an opening for our Pacific Team, but it will have to be based in Hawaii.
“We are still continuing discussion, if the Hawaiian solutions come through then we will have a Super Rugby team. Otherwise we are talking about issues that we can never, never, never finance because we cannot afford.”
The SRU chairman made it clear that continuing financial problems facing all of the Pacific Islands nations, who rely on World Rugby money to survive, meant a Super Rugby franchise would only exist with money from abroad.
The issue is clearly annoying Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who claims he would refuse to back any Super Rugby involvement by Samoa without outside assistance. He added: “Because of the finances (needed to set up a team) I will soon refuse to provide any Super Rugby team or any players from Samoa to join a Super Rugby team because we do not have finances and therefore the conditions (for entry) set by SANZAAR are impossible.”
Fepuleai Vincent Fepuleai, the SRU’s Chief Executive Officer, admits it all comes down to finances and said: “It’s a great idea and it’s a great opportunity for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to play in that competition. From our point of view, we just want somebody to be able to fund it. We support it, but it all comes down to money.
“An independent franchise with a mandate of having Pacific Islands players in the team looks most likely. SANZAAR will decide whether to expand and a lot of work is going on behind scenes to find the right investors to be able to get it off the ground. Running it separately from the unions is a must.”
In recent years Super Rugby has attempted to broaden its appeal and attract new television revenue by introducing the Jaguares from Argentina and Japan’s Sunwolves, but the format is up for review in 2020. With South Africa’s Cheetahs and Southern Kings already playing in the European Pro 14 there is a danger that their lead could be followed by other franchises in that country.
McKee has urged SANZAAR to consider adding the Islands to an expanded Rugby Championship. “It would be great for rugby in this region for a Pacific team to be in either Super Rugby or the Rugby Championship — or both,” McKee told foxsports.com.au.
“I think there will be change around the competitions in the next cycle and there will likely be more of a push for the Rugby Championship to perhaps expand. I’m not in any of those talks, but I’d love to see it happen. For a country like Fiji it would really be a massive, massive boost to our game and help us improve our international competitiveness.”
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