So there’s the proposed Moana Pasifika Super Rugby franchise and then there’s strong Pacific Island national teams.
The two, which unfortunately appears to be news to some people, are not the same thing.
A Moana Pasifika side, comprised of and coached by New Zealand Rugby-contracted staff, made its debut on Saturday.
All going well, that franchise will join Super Rugby in 2022. Who’s in the team, who’s coaching and – most importantly – who’s paying for everything is still far from being resolved.
Talks between various governing bodies and players’ associations are ongoing but – as it stands – there are plenty of hopes and dreams being attached to the concept and precious little else.
Among those is the much-vaunted pathway. Moana Pasifika will be a vehicle, we’re told, to keep Pacific players in this part of the world and to make the Island nations stronger.
Personally, I doubt it.
Who is going to pay players their true market rate to play for Moana Pasifika? Certainly not NZR, who are picking up the tab at the moment.
Is World Rugby going to do it? What about the Samoa, Tonga and Fiji unions?
It’s going to take a private backer – or backers – with very deep pockets to prise the best Pacific talent out of their contracts in Europe and Japan, or to convince New Zealand-based players to give up their All Blacks’ eligibility.
As a Pacific Islands-born or eligible player you can still make a very good wage playing out of New Zealand. Problem is, you have to be an All Black to earn it.
So let’s say, even if it’s just for argument’s sake, that NZR continue to fund Moana Pasifika and that – as was the case on Saturday – the side is full of All Blacks-eligible New Zealand Super Rugby players.
How exactly does that make Pacific Islands test rugby stronger?
At the risk of labouring the point here: where are Moana Pasifika’s players going to come from and who’s going to pay them?
I’m tired of seeing Samoans, Fijians and Tongans playing for nations other than their own. But the thing New Zealand, Australia, France, Ireland, England, Japan, the United States – and whoever else you’d care to mention – have in common is that they all pay.
The player, and their extended family, get way more bang for their buck by not playing for their island nation of heritage. Who’s honestly going to give that up to play for an Auckland-based Pacific franchise that won’t pay them as well as they’re used to and might not be around in a few years’ time?
New Zealand has done very well out of Pacific rugby. Very well. But is it NZR’s responsibility to prop rugby up in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa?
How well-governed is the game in those nations and where does their World Rugby funding go?
It was nice to see a multicultural Japan side do so well at last year’s Rugby World Cup. But, at least to a degree, their success only underlined how far off the pace teams such as Samoa and Tonga are now.
A Moana Pasifika Super Rugby franchise won’t make either any stronger, but a change to World Rugby’s eligibility laws would.
It is a nonsense to see Pacific Islanders starring for other countries while their own nations of heritage struggle. What harm would be done in allowing former All Blacks such as Charles Piutau, Lima Sopoaga and Steven Luatua to play for someone else?
They’re not on NZR’s books anymore. Yes, they were All Blacks, but our claim over them is gone.
You maybe can’t have every discarded All Black – but still NZR-contracted – guy like Vaea Fifita suddenly stick his hand up for Tonga, but there are dozens of players out there who could instantly revive the fortunes of the Pacific sides.
Test rugby is better for competition. Ian Foster might not agree, but the global game is better for Argentina beating New Zealand.
Just as it was in 1991 when Samoa tipped over Wales and Argentina on their way to the world cup quarterfinals.
Moana Pasifika is a celebration of the Pacific’s rugby talent and culture. It’s a fine initiative that – provided it can pay for itself – will undoubtedly enhance Super Rugby. What it’s not, though, is an answer to anyone’s international rugby prayers.
It’s going to take a lot more than one Auckland-based franchise to do that.
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