It proved hugely successful in 2016, with the Chiefs holding a ‘home match’ up in Suva, Fiji. Now in 2017, two New Zealand franchises have taken the bold move to schedule matches in the Islands again. It supports more Super Rugby Pacifica Fixtures and the hope that one day, the region may be represented as an entity.
The Chiefs will recreate their Fiji fixture in Round 13, Friday May 19 against the same Crusaders they last played here in July, 2016. That will be followed two weeks later (Friday June 2) when the Blues invite the Queensland Reds to visit Apia, Samoa. A first for that country and venue, those are two more matches that will inject Pacifica Rugby with more fuel to justify a stronger relationship with Super Rugby.
Further Steps to Strengthen Pacifica Rugby
The Blues venture to Apia is one of the more poignant. Not only it’s originality, but also for the relationship of players, stakeholders and the timing. The June match is the first Super Rugby match to be played in Samoa and the first major rugby match to be played under lights at Apia Park National Stadium.
A significant occasion too, and why the Samoan Government has given the fixture and the Auckland franchise it’s full backing at a ceremony at Samoa House, Auckland last weekend. This is because it coincides with Samoa’s 55th Independence Celebrations. The connection between the team, it’s players and management is a reflection on the city itself and on the importance of sport in the Pacific. A celebration of rugby, followed by a celebration of the nation.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) January 30, 2017
“When we assessed all of our options within our region, taking this game to Samoa became an obvious choice. Our Blues region is home to around 150,000 proud Samoans and we have 15 players in our team with Samoan heritage,” said Blues Chief Executive Michael Redman.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the Blues organisation and rugby both in our region and in Samoa.”
Perfect Timing for a Super Rugby Match
While the idealism of a Super Rugby franchise in this region is more based on what it might bring to the game here, the added fixtures in 2017 show what administrators can bring to fans today. The crowds will certainly be out in force, no matter the weather (as fans proved in the rain of Suva last year).
And this is adding to the rich history of the game in the South Pacific, from the earliest days of the Super 10 Rugby back in 1993. It involved Tonga and Western Samoa, along with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa–so the Pacific is a core part of the birthplace of what we know today as Super Rugby.
While both matches are slightly experimental, each are extremely important games in terms of the Super Rugby Championship. “We are honoured to play there, and it will be a unique experience. At the same time it will be important to also perform. This will be our eighth game in a row, and our [the Blues] final Super Rugby game before our bye and the international window,” said Blues head coach Tana Umaga.
“As someone with Samoa heritage, I am very proud to be part of the first Super Rugby match played in Samoa and of course a number of our team have family members living there.”
Pacifica Rugby Supported by SANZAAR
“SANZAAR is delighted that after the success of the Super Rugby match in Fiji last year, we will see in 2017 a match in Apia thanks to the foresight of The Blues,” said SANZAAR Chief Executive, Andy Marinos. “Indeed with two matches in the Pacific Islands this year, Super Rugby recognizes that Samoa (like the rest of the Pacific Islands) is an important geographical part of the rugby landscape. In the southern hemisphere, the rugby talent and the support for the game within the region is amazing.”
And with Super Rugby set to review it’s current format, success in these matches is evidence needed to show the strength of the region. As an option, but not yet in position to support any ambitious developments, it might be the start of a measured path to further increases in matches and participation through Fiji Rugby, Samoa Rugby and [possibly] other nations and more Super Rugby Pacifica Fixtures; including Singapore.
While Super Rugby has had it’s issues with the expansion model, that did not diminish the enjoyment that fans had in Suva last year. They sold out the stadium at a time when teams like the Blues find it hard to fill Eden Park. Options like this, where the experience is new, exciting and a celebration of sport and of the nation, the Blues will certainly be well supported on the first Friday in June.
The Super Rugby 2016 full fixture list is available here.
The Chiefs will play the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium on Friday, May 19, from 7:35pm local time (7:35pm NZ time)
The Blues host the Reds in Apia, Samoa on Friday June 2, from 8:35pm local time (7:35pm NZ time).
LWOR New Poll Question