NZ Rugby have been rebuked by Dan Leo, CEO of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare organisation, for their decision not to expand Super Rugby in 2021 with a new Pasifika team. It was revealed on Thursday that the format of Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2021 will not be too dissimilar from 2020, only with the inclusion of a final. 

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There is, however, the possibility that there will be a trans-Tasman crossover with the Australian franchises, although nothing is official yet. Due to a perceived lack of competitiveness and insufficient corporate funding, a Pasifika team will not be included in 2021, with such plans being shelved until 2022. 

Leo shared a thread on Twitter outlining his concerns with this plan, seeing the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to create a strong Pasifika team on account of financial constraints in the northern hemisphere. 

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The former Samoa international fears that that window may have passed come 2022. He also highlighted the threat posed by a ‘China bid’ to any potential Pasifika team. 

Backed by Andrew Forrest, the Australian billionaire and creator of Global Rapid Rugby (GRR), a Chinese team based in the Bay of Plenty could also join Super Rugby. The China Lions are already a team that competed in GRR in 2020 before the competition was halted because of coronavirus.

This is what Leo said: “NZ Rugby have kicked into the curb the idea of a sixth ‘Pasifika’ Super team, breaking a clear promise that no questions, it will be a Pacific team added – as recommended by Aratipu Report.

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“NZR’s excuse: a 2021 Pasifika Super Rugby will not be competitive. But the window to stand up a competitive Pasifika team in NZ is now and the next three months with so many players being squeezed in the northern hemisphere. Once Covid is fixed that window closes.

“Instead a possible Pasifika team will have to battle it out for NZ slot in 2022 with well-heeled ‘China bid’ based in Bay of Plenty, reportedly paid for by ex-Blues financier Murray Bolton and support from Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

“Hard to believe that in 2018 same NZ Govt saw a Pasifika team as ‘a diplomatic force to counter China’s influence in the Pacific… rugby will help keep hearts and minds away from China, which is saturating the region with money to obtain influence’.”

Leo’s role obviously supports the growth and development of rugby in the Pacific Islands, and 2021 was an opportunity for that, something that has now been spurned in his eyes.

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