WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — World Rugby will provide financial support to allow two Pacific teams to join Super Rugby in 2022 in what it calls an “historic transformation for Pacific Islands rugby.”
The governing body’s executive committee has approved a $1.64 million funding package for an initial three-year period to support two Pacific Island franchises, Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika.
Both franchises will also be supported by their home unions and private equity funding.
The addition of the teams to Super Rugby next year will still depend on the approval of New Zealand Rugby and on key conditions being met.
“The decision was made following a detailed financial, performance and commercial feasibility study in partnership with New Zealand Rugby and the respective unions,” World Rugby said in a statement. “The funding is conditional on these franchises satisfying the necessary financial criteria for entry.”
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said the “game-changing potential” of the decision should not be underestimated.
“From a strategic perspective, it provides the best-possible platform and pathway for the Islands to reach their potential,” he said. “On a human level, this is absolutely the right thing to do.
“It is great for the players, allowing them to make the choice for the first time to be part of a local professional team at the top level of elite club rugby.”
Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor said the move by World Rugby is one of the most important in the history of Fiji rugby.
He said the possibility of the Fijian Drua joining the Super Rugby competition in 2022 “will be a dream come true for not only Fiji rugby but for Pacific Island rugby. We have been urging for such an opportunity and it is almost in our grip.
“This is the missing piece to our rugby puzzle in the Pacific Islands and more importantly to Fiji rugby. Being included in Super Rugby completes our elite pathway and will allow our best players to have the opportunity to play professional rugby right here at home.”
O’Connor said the Pacific teams are “not over the line yet”
“However, we are working very hard to meet all the requirements set by NZR, including strict financial diligence requirements by the end of March to satisfy the NZR Board that we will be able to field a strong team on the field and a sustainable and profitable franchise.”
Lakapi Samoa chief executive Vincent Fepuleai called the decision “a huge step forward for Lakapi Samoa and for Pacific Islands rugby.”
“We have been reliant on our overseas-based players representing Manu Samoa but the Moana Pasifika provides the missing link and pathway for our players to stay in the southern hemisphere.”
More than 20% of professional rugby players have Fijian, Samoan or Tongan heritage.
Prior to the reorganisation of Super Rugby at the start of the professional era, Fiji had a team competing against provinces from Australia and New Zealand in either a South Pacific championship, Super 6 or Super 10 competitions.
But that participation ended when the fully professional Super 12 competition was launched in 1996, with franchises from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The competition was gradually expanded to include teams from Argentina and Japan, but was abandoned in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic ground international rugby to a halt. New Zealand was first to get a domestic, five-team Super Rugby competition restarted last year, followed by Australia with a five-team tournament and then South Africa.