Fiji’s NRC entry provides Twiggy’s Indo-Pacific template

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Andrew Forrest was obviously busy last weekend, knocking up his plans and his administration structure for the proposed Indo-Pacific competition that he hoped he would never have to unveil.

    On the other side of the country, a team was making its competition debut under an initiative that the mining magnate should be actively chasing.

    The Fijian Drua’s initial foray into the NRC resulted in a 45-36 loss to Brisbane City at Ballymore Oval, but they certainly proved in running in six tries that they’re more than capable of competing at this level.

    But behind the scenes, the Drua’s presence in the NRC has come about because of a funding package put forward by World Rugby, primarily, and the Fijian Rugby Union to a lesser extent.

    World Rugby effectively covering all transport and accommodation costs makes this move possible, and those two elements will be the biggest costs involved. Though the Drua have been based in Brisbane and Melbourne for the first two rounds, NSW Country head to Fiji next weekend and will stay at The Warwick Resort for the length of their stay for the Round 3 clash. A cursory glance of a booking site noted rooms start at around AUD$300 a night!

    (And yes, I’m still open to offers to cover that game ‘on the ground’ – have your people contact mine to discuss.)

    But this is the same sort of developmental funding Forrest should be pulling out all stops to have in place?

    In confirming his plans for a new six Indo-Pacific competition so that the Western Force can remain a competitive rugby entity, Forrest reiterated his desire to grow the game into new areas of Asia, and into the Pacific Islands.

    Immediately, the speculation points to Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, and this is somewhat backed by Hong Kong proactively declaring their interest before Forrest’s people have picked up the phone.

    As an aside, this kind of geographic spread raises immediate alarm bells for me; the same sort of travel and time differences that plague Super Rugby fairly obviously stand out about this proposal, too.

    Regardless, Forrest’s plans would seem to marry up with up World Rugby’s visions for developing the game in the Pacific and the broader Asian region, and the same sort of involvement from the governing body as what they provide the Drua for the NRC could actually kill two birds with one stone.

    Obviously, the less Forrest has to pay of what will quite clearly be a substantial travel and accommodation bill in a competition of any length, the better. Sure, sponsorship opportunities will help in this department, too, and I have no doubt Forrest’s IndoPac people will have securing such sponsorship as a very high priority.

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    But the other part of this is actually what could make or break Forrest’s plans at the first step.

    Having World Rugby involved means that the governing body’s approval for this competition is virtually guaranteed. World Rugby sanctioning would see the words ‘rebel competition’ disappear completely, and will allow players to sign for the new competition knowing that they national eligibility will be unaffected.

    This is of huge importance. Forrest has said that wants to ensure the pathways continue for young Western Australian players, to ensure their dreams of playing for the Wallabies remain in place. But that won’t happen if his competition doesn’t get World Rugby tick. Even if the ARU do follow through with their stated support, they wouldn’t have any obligation to pick Australian-based players from an unsanctioned competition.

    Beyond that, and assuming his competition includes the national unions being guessed at and suggested, Forrest should also seek discussions with SANZAAR. Knowing what we now know about South Africa’s plans, this new IndoPac proposal could, in fact, create the initial framework for a refocussed Asia/Oceanic-based Super Rugby competition from 2021 onwards.

    Drua debut had it all; now the hard work begins
    In running in the six tries they did against a Brisbane City side that already looks much improved on last season’s NRC disappointments, Fiji’s debut in the national competition had just about everything we’ve come to expect from them.

    Open rugby. Silky skills. Willingness to attack, with almost enough ability to match. Hard hitting defence. Horrendous discipline. And now, the longest suspension in NRC history, and the longest suspension I can recall ever handed down at this level or above in this part of the world.

    Drua hooker Samu Suguturaga pleaded guilty to a biting charge, after City hooker Andrew Ready’s ear required a couple of stitches and was left with a pretty gnarly set of teeth marks after a first half scrum on Saturday.

    NRC Judiciary head Paul Tully concluded the severity was on the high end of the scale, allowing for an entry point of 24 weeks, which was reduced to 20 weeks with “mitigating circumstances” and what you suspect would have been a healthy and humble amount of remorse.

    It’s not the sort of thing we need in the game, and it’s not the sort of thing the Fijian Drua should be known for in the NRC, because on one week’s showing we already know they’re capable of so much more.

    It resumes for them on Saturday down in Melbourne against the Rising, and the huge Polynesian and specifically Fijian rugby community in Melbourne means this will be another wonderful occasion. If you’re down that way, honestly, do yourself a massive favour.

    Nick Stirzaker Melbourne Rising NRC Rugby Union 2017 tall

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    Brisbane City will have their hands full dealing with a Queensland Country side who will be disappointed with their second half fade-out in Canberra last weekend.

    And we’ll find out if my suspicions about Perth Spirit using ‘home’ and ‘away’ squads for the NRC again are true, when they head to Canberra to face the Vikings without their Kookaburras colours. Last year’s semi-finalists, the Sydney Rays will make their first outing of 2017, when they host what already to looks to be a very handy Eastwood no, *Greater Sydney* Rams side.

    Enjoy your NRC rugby this weekend.

    NRC ladder
    Greater Sydney 5, Perth 4, Brisbane City 4, Canberra 4; Sydney 0, Queensland Country 0, Fiji 0, Melbourne 0, NSW Country 0.

    Round 2

    1pm: Queensland Country v Brisbane City; Dolphins Rugby, Noosa – Live streamed
    3pm: Melbourne Rising v Fijian Drua; Harlequin Oval, Melbourne – LIVE on Fox Sports 501

    1pm: Canberra Vikings v Perth Spirit; Viking Park, Canberra – Live streamed
    3pm: Sydney Rays v Greater Sydney Rams; Macquarie University, Sydney – LIVE on Fox Sports 501

    NSW Country Eagles have the bye.

    Happy with three from four last week, but a week’s worth of knowledge could be dangerous: Brisbane City and Melbourne on Saturday, Canberra and Greater Sydney on Sunday.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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