New Zealand Rugby has granted provisional licenses to two Pacific Island teams, allowing them to join Super Rugby in 2022.
Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua are the two sides who will join the ten existing Super Rugby clubs in an expanded and combined 12-team competition next year.
The duo’s inclusion is not yet completely confirmed, with final approval of their licenses conditional on sign-off from Rugby Australia, and their final business plans.
The latter were given a large boost last month when World Rugby committed an annual funding package of ￡1.2 million ($AUD2.12 million) for three years to support the two sides.
“We are moving into the final phase of planning for 2022 and beyond, and we have confidence that Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will be able to meet the conditions of the licence, which includes final sign-off on a sustainable business plan by 30 June,” NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said.
“In the next two months we will be working with Rugby Australia and the two Pasifika teams to formalise their place in the new competition for what we believe will kick off an exciting, new era for the professional game.”
The inclusion of a Pacific Islands team in Super Rugby has been a discussion for some time, with Auckland mooted as a potential location for a Pasifika side. Moana Pasifika played their first game last year against the Maori All Blacks, a match that ended in a narrow 28-21 defeat for the new outfit.
The Drua, who joined Australia’s National Rugby Championship before its demise and won the competition in 2018, will play some of their matches in Fiji, but according to the Sydney Morning Herald could also be based partly in western Sydney.
“Obviously Fiji is a small market. We would definitely look at playing matches externally. Whether that’s in Australia, New Zealand or whatever other opportunities become available to us,” Simon Raiwalui, Fiji’s general manager of rugby, said to the Herald.
“With the Fijian and Pasifika communities in both countries and throughout south-east Asia, there are huge communities and huge support for anything Fiji rugby. That’s definitely an opportunity.”
Michael Jones, who played for both the All Blacks and Manu Samoa and is now an NZR board member, lauded today’s decision.
“We are now on the cusp of realising a long-held desire to include Pasifika in our professional game and the opportunity to embrace all that comes with that,” Jones said.
“With the approval of licences, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua can now forge ahead with the final stages of their business plans and crucially start to lock in their playing and coaching rosters for next season. It’s an exciting time for rugby.”