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Super Rugby centurion not sold on NZ-backed Pacific Nations Cup

By Sam Smith
USA Eagles back rower Cam Dolan. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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While USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young has mooted the idea of relaunching the Pacific Nations Cup with the assistance of New Zealand Rugby [NZR], some of NZ’s top players aren’t sold on the idea.

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Earlier this month, Young told Stuff that while the Eagles’ upcoming game with the All Blacks will be a huge boost for rugby in the United States, the greatest benefit would come from more regular competition against top sides – not just one-off fixtures.

He suggested that NZR could use their influence to help reinstate the Pacific Nations Cup – a competition that has run under many formats over the last two decades but fallen to the wayside in recent times and never held a steady place on the rugby calendar.

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Ross Karl, James Parsons and Bryn Hall look back on the week that was.

“We as a union struggle getting connectivity with the American psyche, because we are not playing in a meaningful league competition,” he said. “What can we win as the US Eagles?

“There was the Pacific Rim Trophy [about] 10 years ago, which involved Japan, the Pacific Islands, US and Canada. To me, that’s what makes sense.

“The lack of regular games for the likes of Fiji and Japan, Samoa, Canada etc, that sort of Pacific Rim type championship is the thing to me that makes the most logical sense for our involvement.”

While a reinvigorated PNC with the full commitment of World Rugby would make for a great spectacle, two Super Rugby centurions are unsure whether it’s New Zealand’s responsibility to assist the likes of the USA with lobbying the game’s governing body when NZR are already helping to develop rugby in the Pacific.

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“I think it’s one step at a time,” said former Blues hooker James Parsons on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “I think it was a great tournament and it warrants looking at bringing it back and getting more tests for everyone is what we want to see; we want to grow the game so that it is worldwide and there’s that drive and connection to the game of rugby in each part of the world.

“For NZR, being put on them, I think there’s already a real big focus on Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua. The reason I think those teams are so crucial is that [they] can, in time, provide a pathway for talent out of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, to these [national] teams.

“I’m not saying not to have these tests or this tournament, but it’s one step at a time and really focussing in on what’s key for [the Pacific Island sides], and they’ve made a real commitment – a financial commitment but also a backing, as NZR have, to get these teams up and running. But also, in time, those teams themselves are going to want to create that pathway for talent coming out of those regions.”

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Parsons also suggested that NZR only have so many resources at their disposal and that the development of the new Super Rugby franchises will ultimately pave the way for greater success at the highest level.

“I just think there’s only so much you can do,” he said. “If you spread yourself too thin, you’re not going to be able to nail it … I think NZR have been awesome in the support they’ve shown for Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drui.

“This [tournament] is a [short-term] focus thing. If we can get this tournament up and running to make the game worldwide, I’m all for it. But putting it all on NZR, I just think’s a little bit unfair because they’re really rolling their sleeves up on their own game at the moment and trying to create these pathways and opportunities for others.”

Current Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall added that if the PNC were to return in any guise, it would have to fit into the calendar at such a time that the top players from all the participating nations would be available for selection and not pre-occupied with the club game.

“We’ve talked around [the need for Super Rugby] Trans-Tasman being competitive and having a great product. I think if they do want that [PNC] completion, you’ve got to be able to have it as a competitive product,” Hall said.

“The last thing you want is not having the best players [playing ] for their country.”

Parsons added that the growth of the game worldwide would be a huge boost, especially in the USA, but that the return of the Pacific Nations Cup might not be the best way to go about doing that.

“I think we all know that if we can get the Eagles humming and a successful team, that’s great for the game of rugby,” he said. “I think everyone in the world wants that, to see the USA Eagles going well. Look at the growth in Japan and how much love for the game of rugby that’s brought. Some of their big victories at test match level [and] filtering down into their club comp.

“We all know we want the Pacific Island teams to have more opportunities to play so in theory this competition is great but it’s not necessarily a blueprint [we should follow]. There might be something better we can do that can include them, rather than putting them off to the side in their own competition, if that makes sense.”

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Super Rugby centurion not sold on NZ-backed Pacific Nations Cup

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