Pacific rugby squad gets player backing

Monday May 21, 2018 Written by Published in Regional

PACIFIC – A proposed combined Pacific Islands Super Rugby team has the backing of a number of former players and administrators.

 

But player representatives have also emphasised the financial and logisitical challenges that would need to be overcome.

New Zealand Rugby is currently looking over a government commissioned feasibility study on the establishment of a Pacific Islands representative team in Super Rugby.

Under the plan the “Pacific Force” team would be based in Suva and also play home games in Samoa, Tonga, Auckland and Sydney.

Former All Black Sir Bryan Williams, who coached and had two sons play for Manu Samoa, said all the island nations would benefit.

“One of the things that’s been to the real detriment of Pacific Island rugby is the fact that they’re not involved in Super Rugby and, as a result, they can’t generate the sort of income that everyone else can,” he said.

“It’s sort of hand-to-mouth for those unions at the moment and if it comes to pass, then it will certainly be a big boost to Pacific Island rugby.”

“It would give the players the right sort of competition week to week and generate the right sort of income that will allow them to compete at the very top level,” said the former Hurricanes assistant coach.

“They get some grants from World Rugby but not enough to compete at the top level of international rugby. We’ve seen the demise of Samoan rugby at the top level – they’ve gone from seventh in the world to 16th.”

Super Rugby faces potential change in 2020 when the current broadcasting deal expires.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke said having a Pacific Island team involved in Super Rugby would do nothing but good for the players and the local communities but there was still a number of sticking points to be considered and agreed on.

“Anybody who knows rugby can understand that that’s the type of detail that we have to consider to make sure that it actually works. You don’t want to repeat past mistakes,” he said.

“From here it’s just about making sure as it evolves that the type of detail – in terms of home and away and exactly time on the road and where it will be based – come out to be as best as possible.

“It’s very complex – lots of different nations involved logistically, politically – so a lot of water to go under the bridge yet.”

Former Flying Fijians captain Deacon Manu believes a Pacific-based team in Super Rugby is long overdue.

“I think most people could tell you that it is feasible and just making sure that it’s done in the correct manner and it’s got enough support,” he said.

“Because the last thing you want to happen is to have a team to come up in the Pacific Islands without the correct funding model and the support structure as well.”

Manu played for both the Chiefs and Blues Super Rugby sides during his career and said he was confident current Fiji, Samoa and Tonga internationals would be keen to be involved in the proposed team.

“I certainly think it’s very appealing to be able to be home for part of your professional career,” he said.

“I think it’s a huge attraction, especially with Pacific Islanders and their families are a big thing that when you want to make sure that they’re looking after there’s no place like home for a player.

“But in that regard it’s a world market in terms of dollar signs for contracts so it’s got to be mentioned the economics have to be calculated and factored in as well.”

Clarke said a combined Pacific Islands team would be a huge boost to the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga national teams.

“What it provides is more opportunity for the young players coming through,” he said.

“The ability to make a decision on would they like to stay with their families and earn a living in the Pacific or would they like to go to Europe. At the moment they don’t even have that option.”

Currently, New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby teams only offer only a limited number of contracts to players not eligible for the All Blacks or Wallabies and Clarke said a Pacific Islands team would help players agonising between their heritage and livlihoods.

“Obviously New Zealand and Australia first and foremost want to protect their own backyard and have as many players on the field that are eligible for their national teams, which you can understand,” he said.

“But from our point of view recognising the contribution of Pacific Island players is also very important. At the moment, within the current rules, there’s only a certain amount of spots that are available for guys who aren’t eligible for these national teams.

“And that does come into the decision making of players whether they’re going to make themselves available for international rugby or not or maybe wait until they’re playing abroad.”             - RNZI

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