5 Oct 2020

Fijian Super Rugby team would hold their own - leading coach

2:46 pm on 5 October 2020

A leading rugby coach in Fiji says a locally based Super Rugby team would be immediately competitive if given the chance to join an expanded competition.

New Zealand Rugby is keen add a Pacific Island franchise but announced last week the same five teams would compete in Super Rugby Aotearoa next year, with the addition of a one-off final.

Kurt Eklund Blues hooker.

The same five teams will suit up for Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2021. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The NZR chair, Brent Impey, said none of the Pacific team bids were both competitive on the field and financially sustainable off the field.

Senirusi Seruvakula coached the Fijian Drua to the Australian NRC title in 2018 and believed a local team would hold their own.

"We've got a lot of talent here in Fiji and they need a competition like Super Rugby and competition like the NRC [in Australia]," he said.

"That was a big opportunity for the local players to play in those kind of competitive competitions and to be included and into Super Rugby that's a big bonus for them because of the talent we have here."

The Fijian Drua will host the Australian NRC final after beating Canberra in Lautoka.

The Fijian Drua won the Australian provincial competition in 2018. Photo: Fiji Rugby

The 2020 NRC competition was cancelled because of Covid-19, with a number of prospective players having subsequently signed for professional clubs in France and the United States.

Senirusi Seruvakula, who also coached the Fijian Latui in Global Rapid Rugby, said a local Super Rugby team would also help to stem the tide of young players moving overseas who often end up playing for rival nations.

"A lot of these players which we do not talent ID and then they go to overseas and they've been picked from those countries like New Zealand or Australia or Scotland or England," he said.

"The players they're going overseas to get contracts but to keep them here in Fiji it's a good way that we have our own talent here in Fiji, and rather than relying on getting overseas players to play for the Flying Fijians, rather that we just have a pool of players here in Fiji and playing [in] a competitive competition like Super Rugby."

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

Senirusi Seruvakula. Photo: Facebook/ Fiji Rugby

The Pacific Island rugby community has expressed disappointment at being overlooked for next year's Super Rugby competition.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Rugby Players Association insist they did not agree to NZR's plans and still want a professional team in the Pacific.

There's still no confirmation of whether Rapid Rugby or the NRC will return in 2021 and Senirusi Seruvakula said the lack of a professional rugby competition in Fiji is a major disadvantage when trying to compete on the world stage.

"We really need to be in the competition, in a professional competition, a very stronger competition playing against international test players," he said.

"That's what the local players here in Fiji really need because if it happens the majority of those players making it into that side will be local...but it will lift Fiji Rugby in a big way."

"What we did in the Drua: 2017 in our first year we were in the top four and the following year we won the competition."

But is it affordable?

Two years ago a proposed Pacific Island Super Rugby bid fizzled out over a lack of funding.

While the splintering of the SANZAAR alliance and a global pandemic may have lowered the entry fee, running a professional sporting franchise is not exactly a cheap exercise.

"To be honest it's going to be hard for Fiji Rugby. To go through and get all those contracts Fiji Rugby needs backing from the government. They need backing from bigger sponsorships from companies to get all those across the board," admitted Seruvakula, who is a former Flying Fijians assistant coach.

"If it happens this is a first thing for Fiji Rugby: getting big contracts for big players to play for that Fijian team. It hasn't happened for the Drua, they only get allowances, for Latui only allowances and for Flying Fijians they're never contracted, they only get allowances - so to make this happen it's a new thing for Fiji Rugby."

Crusaders lock Luke Romano wins a lineout against the Chiefs in their Super Rugby match in Suva earlier this year.

The Fijian government previously underwrote the cost of hosting Super Rugby matches in Suva. Photo: Photosport