Just what Super Rugby will look like in the post-COVID world remains to be seen, but the push for the involvement of a team from the Pacific Islands is growing stronger.
The chances of a team representing Fiji, Samoa and Tonga in Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 took a hit last week, though, when New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey confirmed the Kiwi competition will stay at five teams next year.
His announcement came after NZR sought “expressions of interest” from clubs to join an enlarged Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, with two bids believed to have come from Moana Pasifika and Kanaloa Hawaii.
“There has been a lot of speculation around our keenness to include a Pasifika team in Super Rugby, and we’re still committed to getting that across the line at some point. But the board believes we must get this right,” he told reporters last week.
However, the decision to block a Pasifika presence in Super Rugby Aotearoa led Pacific Rugby Players chief executive Aayden Clarke to describe NZR as “arrogant” and suggested a potential move to Super Rugby AU may be a better option instead.
“I do actually think there is merit in it being based out of Australia, rather than New Zealand,” Clarke told Stuff on Monday.
“Australia have had a far more open-door policy, and a willingness with Pacific Island teams over the past few years compared to NZ Rugby.
“We’ve had the Fijian Drua play in the NRC [National Rugby Championship], we’ve had various options where Australia have been a little bit more kind, and without wanting to say it, a little bit less arrogant about it.
“It’s a genuine option.”
Clarke’s sentiments were echoed by former All Blacks great Sir Bryan Williams, who told the New Zealand Herald that NZR’s decision to deny a Pasifika presence in Super Rugby Aotearoa next year as “cruel”.
“It’s something that our particular group hasn’t considered but, by the same token, if it came to that, quite frankly, I would do anything to get this across the line,” Williams, who is tied to the Moana Pasifika bid, said of possibly joining Super Rugby AU.
“If that is what it takes … I am 70 years old today and I want to see it in my lifetime because I have been really disappointed in the last few days and I hope things get better.”
Tupou said he would like to see a franchise established in the region to give youngster across the Pacific a pathway into professional rugby, but was sceptical about the financial aspect of such a venture.
“Giving an opportunity for boys from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji that don’t have the opportunity to play at a professional level, but I just don’t know how it’s going to work, where it’s going to be based,” the Tongan-born prop said.
Toomua, the son of a Samoan father, expanded on Tupou’s comments, highlighting the eagerness among players to implement a Pasifika franchise, but conceded there are logistical issues that would need to be worked through.
“I think the desire from players to have a Pacific Island team is huge. We have such a large showing of Pacific Island players,” the 52-test playmaker said.
“The logistics around it is quite tough because we like to say Pacific Islands as if it’s a state or something, but there’s a border that separates a lot of the islands in itself, so getting them in a centralised location is quite tough.
“There’s been some talk of it being offshore in Australia or New Zealand. There’s many reasons why it hasn’t happened, but in terms of pure desire and wanting to have it from a players’ point of view, we would absolutely love it.”
Coach Dave Rennie is keeping his Wallabies on edge ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup clash against the All Blacks.https://t.co/sNJ1XcN6Xx
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 6, 2020
Toomua pointed to the addition of the Fijian-based Drua in Australia’s domestic NRC competition, of which they won in their second season of existence in 2018, as an example of success that can come with including a Pacific Island team in Super Rugby AU.
“I think it would bring a new flavour to the game. I think you’ve seen the success of the Drua in the NRC. You’re just seeing more and more Fijian guys, in particular, in the NRL, so I think it would be smart strategically to get some of those guys playing in our competition because we could probably poach a few as well,” he said.
“[It would] almost just [be] doing the right things by the islands in terms of the contributions that they’ve made to our game, it would be amazing if we could do that, bearing in mind there are complexities involved.”
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