Back in April of this year, news came out that two Pacific Island teams (Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika) had been granted conditional licenses to play in the proposed Super Rugby tournament of 2022.
Assured of competition of the highest levels, it was received with great enthusiasm from Apia, to Nukilofa, and as far as Ireland, and potentially a global audience to absorb their development potential next season.
Hugely positive steps yes, yet how deeply was the penny dropping for World Rugby?
Moana Pasifika to play at Mt Smart Stadium until 2028
Provided a host stadium, to begin with; as their own intended home in either Samoa or Tonga were not selected (at this time). The call to use the Auckland base is the same venue where this side played their debut game versus the Maori All Blacks.
The side has great public appeal, and credible backers including Sir BG Williams and Sir Michael Jones. Plus, their head coach was announced to coincide with the foundations needed for a professional franchise rugby side.
These seemed like tangible measures to grow the game globally away from the usual financially solvent strongholds. This news was broadly welcomed as a step in the right direction.
SUPER RUGBY NEWS
The Fijian Drua has announced Mick Byrne as its head coach while Moana Pasifika has named Aaron Mauger as its head coach as both teams plan for their @SuperRugby debut season in 2022.
Details: https://t.co/PUA8KpaoWa pic.twitter.com/tg7I0NZ7PG
— Super Rugby/TRC (@SuperRugby) September 30, 2021
One step forwards, two steps back
Thankfully, with licenses granted, the recent news that Moana Pasifika will play in Southeast Auckland until 2028 has tempered the initial optimism. It does have the feel of, ‘one step forwards, two steps back’.
Fears highlighted by Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief Dan Leo may be coming to pass. He said that although the already established Fijian Drua franchise would be ok and will benefit Fijian rugby, he was concerned that the newly begun Pasifika franchise may end up being ‘at the behest of New Zealand Rugby’. Would there be a conflict of interest between Samoa and Tongan rugby, and that of the NZ organization?
Leo is no fan of Tier One nations, whose words are loudly reported yet, not wholly followed up. The same can be said of clubs, where availability does not always benefit Pacifica rugby nations schedules.
The reality of those surviving on crumbs off the table 🙄 https://t.co/1c3BObUdqd
— Daniel Leo (@danleo82) July 29, 2021
Let’s give some credit where it is due, and say that at least New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are not standing in the way of unfiltered Pacific Island rugby representation. However, are they right in how they are going about including the Pacific Island franchises? Most who welcomed news of Drua and Pasifika’s inclusion would have hoped those teams would play in their home countries.
Practically not in 2022 obviously, though how good would it have been to see inbound and local fans spending their money where it is needed most, leading to an improvement in those countries’ economies.
Even news of Moana Pasifika’s kit deal with ethical New Zealand sports brand Dynasty Sports needs some close inspection. The manufacturer has very well intended values and will invest well in branding that melds well with the authentic shirt design due to be released in November.
Some questions can be asked, like; have they made a commitment to put any profits back into Pacific Island rugby? Dynasty Sports’ sustainable commitments are commendable but, should they [most likely] make a considerable profit from this venture then surely they and others need to facilitate the growth of the Pacific Island game?
Editors note: the initial catalogue and inherent pricing model will be far, far less than leading rugby kit manufacturers. Affordability could be aimed at the demographic, and this will assist in the purchasing power of fans in the Islands, Auckland, and across the Pacific.
Realism and representation in Covid-era Super Rugby Pacific
Obviously, an element of realism has to come into this opinion piece.
The coronavirus has impacted how we all travel, including for rugby matches. It means inter-Island travel is not as simple as spectators found when the Chiefs twice hosted the Crusaders in both Suva [Fiji], and Apia, Samoa.
Those freedoms that we once took for granted aren’t quite so straightforward anymore. Also, there’s the issue of Pacific Island players playing overseas and not being based at home. They cannot necessarily leave their current clubs, uproot from where they are based and give up their wages and security. It will see many potential signings; ala, Leone Nakarawa (who has signed with for Top14 club, Toulon). Or men like Alan Alaalatoa (Wallabies/Brumbies), or Charles Piutau (Bristol).
In reality – even with World Rugby directly supporting the two expansion teams – big names like Nakarawa would be limited by the practical realism of comparable salaries. But wouldn’t it have been great to see Samoan and Tongan player’s head downunder.
For some second-generation Pacific Islanders based abroad, there is also the question of who to represent? If a rugby-playing professional born in Australia of Pacific Island heritage wants to represent Australia, what’s wrong with that? And vice versa too. If they chose to represent Fiji, Samoa, or Tonga, why should anyone get in their way?
Player recruitment considerations idealistic or reality of game?
Were the Pacific Island teams to have a successful run in Super Rugby and, with hope eventually began to play home games; might this cause issues for player recruitment in Australia as well as New Zealand? If staying at home was enough of a draw for a new generation of Pacific player choices might they then choose Samoa or Tonga or Fiji ahead of the more globally successful Australia or New Zealand?
When considering things as they currently stand, you could comment on events through an idealistic or realistic lens. Or perhaps somewhere in between?
Each rugby nation union has a right to protect, promote and grow their game. However, is it right that it is done to the detriment of other rugby-playing nations? Could a case be seen where World Rugby [rather than any individual country needs] take a lead here?
Most stakeholders will support a larger input from the top. As well as any financial commitment they’ve made, there needs to be clear messaging from the top that this is a global game for all. Many good efforts have, and are being made though, Sir Bill Beaumont or Alan Gilpin could lead by establishing structures, pathways, and a clear calendar that embraces the former.
It’s not always right to follow the money trail. Last Word on Rugby would not begrudge an individual’s choice yet, the values North v South are imbalanced. Rewards and revenue share need to be given to the grassroots and areas of the world that lack infrastructure. Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika can prove how steps in the right direction, can only make this a trend….not idealistic.
“Main photo credit”