13 Mar 2020

Sport: Rapid Rugby an opportunity for Pacific players

12:06 pm on 13 March 2020

The first full season of Global Rapid Rugby kicks off this weekend with teams from Fiji and Samoa hoping the competition can be a springboard for players to push for higher honours.

Rapid Rugby an opportunity for Pacific players.

Rapid Rugby an opportunity for Pacific players. Photo: Facebook / Rapid Rugby

Six teams from Australia, Asia and the Pacific will play home and away games over the next three months, with $AUD1million in prizemoney up for grabs, however, games will no longer be played in China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Fijian Latui coach Senirusi Seruvakula said the team had spent the last three weeks in camp focused on fitness, defence and mastering the competition's modified rules, which included 35 minutes halves, no gain in ground when kicking directly to touch and nine point "power tries" for attacks launched from within a team's own 22.

Fiji Latui coach Senirusi Seruvakula gearing up for Global Rapid Rugby tournament.

Fiji Latui coach Senirusi Seruvakula gearing up for Global Rapid Rugby tournament. Photo: Facebook/ Fiji Rugby

"Last week we were working on the rules for the GRR and everyone's understanding, to understand the rules very well and now we are excited for our first game against China [Lions] on Saturday."

The Latui squad includes a number of Flying Fijian internationals while former Chiefs Super Rugby star Asaeli Tikoirotuma is also involved in a player-coaching role.

Seruvakula said his team was ready to go in Saturday's season-opening match against the New Zealand-based China Lions in Suva.

"I am very confident. Confident that it's our first game and we'll try our best for all three home games. We really need to win and I believe we're going to do that on Saturday."

The inaugural Rapid Rugby season was cancelled in 2019 after two teams pulled out at late notice, with the Latui and Kagifa Samoa instead taking part in a "Pacific Showcase" series against the Western Force.

This year, the Samoan franchise has been renamed Manumā Samoa and will host games in Apia for the first time.

Manumā Samoa squad to debut in the 2020 Global Rapid Rugby season.

Manumā Samoa squad to debut in the 2020 Global Rapid Rugby season. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

Head coach and former Manu Samoa international, Muliagatele Brian Lima, said Rapid Rugby was a chance for local players to be exposed to a higher level of competition.

"A few years ago, none of the local players made it to the Manu so that's why we are using this team as a pathway to the Manu Samoa."

Muliagatele said fitness had been the main focus in recent weeks ahead of their opening match against the Hong Kong based South China Tigers in Perth.

"We focus on the fitness because when we look at the game last year it's a really fast game, and because of the changing of law. If we play according to those rules then we have to be fit, so we focus on our fitness for now."

"The most important thing is the game last week, it was a good hit out for the boys to play against Bay of Plenty, the Mitre 10 level in Super Rugby which is a good test for them so it's all part of the planning."

Manumā Samoa trained in Auckland for two weeks before flying to Perth.

Manumā Samoa trained in Auckland for two weeks before flying to Perth. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

The players receive an allowance for the 12-week competition but some are still juggling their rugby aspirations with a full-time job or other opportunities.

"Some of the players they pull out because first I think it is their [commitment to] their job and working. Second is their clubs and especially the players if they think they might make it to the Mitre 10 [Cup in New Zealand] so they stick with those teams and we don't want to distract them."

"It's difficult because it's a three month tournament, so it's hard for players to leave their job and come and play for this team so we are trying to vary."

Pacific Rugby Players chief executive, Aayden Clarke, who has been involved with the contracting of both Pacific Islands teams believes Rapid Rugby has taken a step forward after being cancelled last season and is providing an opportunity for players to earn some money while playing in a semi-professional competition.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

"In terms of opportunity, the players in both the Fijian and Samoan team are playing in a competition at a level that will be higher than what they're playing at home but also in terms of money in the pocket, it's not insignificant for them, it's an opportunity to earn a little bit of money in a semi-professional competition."

"It's a short term contract where they get some money that's going to help them out while also getting the rugby experience and exposure to different skill level."

While only six teams are contesting the inaugural home and away campaign, Clarke said the chance to come up against players from a range of countries and backgrounds is exciting for Pacific teams.

"The Chinese team which everyone knows is based out of the Bay of Plenty adds a different dynamic to the competition. The Western Force is always a professional outfit and I know that the boys enjoy getting exposed to playing with these overseas teams and for many of them it's for the first time."

All 31 games will be broadcast live and on-demand on the RugbyPass YouTube Channel, while Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and TV1 Samoa will also screen games on free to air TV.

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