Ever since the emergence of professional rugby, the Pacific Islands have produced the highest calibre of elite athletes who, individually, have developed into top tier rugby players, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa have some of the best individual talents across both Super Rugby and European clubs.
Their influence transcends the hemisphere boundaries. However, at international level they have always struggled to break in as a tier-one nation.
The potential these nations possess has always been hindered by economic issues and if they are to ever grow into tier-one nations then World Rugby must support them. One such way is the investment into a Super Rugby team from the Pacific Islands. The evolution of Super Rugby in the last couple of years has left the door open for change for the Pacific Islands. But as always, this may be easier said than done due to numerous external factors.
The main issue aside from infrastructure in these nations is the wage pull away from their home countries to mainly Europe’s elite sides. At the end of the day rugby is their day job and to set up families for life, you have to move to top Premiership and Top 14 clubs.
For example, Fiji’s Semi Randranra signed a two year deal with Bordeaux Bègels in 2018 rumoured to be worth €600,000 and now at Bristol, he may be on even more. How can a Pacific Team ever match this type of wage demand?
It does not take a rocket scientist to work out the answer to such a question. Simply, they can’t. Therefore, the top Pacific players will always play elsewhere, so the focus must be on young Pacific talent. Alongside this, you may find a lot of Pacific Islanders returning to play here once they have made big money elsewhere due to the love for the club and desire to reconnect with their roots.
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 29, 2021
A simple question must be asked- where will they play? Australia currently has five Super Rugby AU teams mixed with extreme financial difficulties. Cuts are expected.
A real option is to cut some of their teams to a) make them more competitive as more internationals will be playing together but also b) the costs for Australian rugby will be massively reduced. Does this open the door to base a Pacific Team in Queensland or Sydney?
Funded by World Rugby, a Pacific Islands Super Rugby side would surely become an attractive proposition. The Western Force were originally booted out of Australian Rugby however with a lack of teams in the new format they ended up coming crawling back.
A key factor you have to remember is so many young Pacific schoolboys are being brought up in Australia and New Zealand as talent doesn’t go unrecognised in these tier one nations. Such players will always grow up remembering and being proud of their pacific cultures.
Charles Pitau grew up in New Zealand with Tongan heritage and has stressed his desire to actually play for Tonga. Having played a year for the Highlanders before moving to Europe, would a Pacific Club side been a more attractive super rugby franchise for him? Only he can answer that.
Tevita Kuridrani is another example of a player of Fijian descent but plays for the Western Force and Australia. Young Fijian Jona Nareki after his recent hattrick for the Highlanders, further emphasises the trend isn’t stopping.
Embed from Getty Images
Tonga, Fiji and Samoa all failed to get out of their world cup groups in Japan. With notable below-par performances, some experts labelled them as embarrassing. Therefore, would a Pacific team in Super Rugby get destroyed week in week out? The argument is a fair one but there is another side.
The standard outside of New Zealand is average at best. There is a reason why New Zealand have set up Super Rugby Aotearoa and the recent move from South Africa to the Pro14. Super Rugby is stagnating and slowly dying hence it needs spicing up as soon as possible. Guess what? Spice and flare is the DNA of the Pacific Islanders, so the excitement factor with a team would 100% come to the table.
Super Rugby AU in particular hasn’t taken off, the Western Force lost all 8 games in 2020, so why not introduce a new team? It is currently struggling to copy the success of Super Rugby Aotearoa. A Pacific team has nothing to lose as the league is already losing. Even in the New Zealand competition, many have argued more teams would add something to the event.
Look at the Jaguares, a newly formed team in the competition- many thought they wouldn’t compete yet they reached the final in 2019. New sides must be given a chance, and right now with some financial backing, there is nothing to lose by throwing a Pacific Team in at the deep end and see what they can do. It would definitely bring new eyes to the competition.
Embed from Getty Images
A starting XV for a Pacific side could look like this if all the islanders got on board with the potential narrative of restoration that could be written over the Pacific Islands. This doesn’t even include players from tier one nations of Pacific descent.
- Siegfried Fisiihoi (Tonga)
- Samuel Matavesi (Fiji)
- Ben Tameifuna (Tong)
- Filo Paulo (Samoa)
- Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
- Peceli Yato (Fiji)
- TJ Ioane (Samoa)
- Viliame Mata (Fiji)
- Nikola Matawalu (Fiji)
- Ben Volavola (Fiji)
- Nemani Nadolo (Fiji)
- Sinale Piutau (Tonga)
- Semi Radradra (Fiji)
- Josua Tuisova (Fiji)
- Tim Nanai-Williams (Samoa)
A mixture of young pacific talent looking for exposure and experienced journeymen is where this team starts along with a few non-islanders, and the team will only grow from there. Bill Beaumont has stressed the future of rugby must be built upon helping the growth of tier two nations. So, let’s stop talking and start acting. Say no to the fear of change. Rather, embrace it!
“Main Photo Credits”
Embed from Getty Images