11 Dec 2020

Pacific Super Rugby bids have work to do - NZ Rugby

1:07 pm on 11 December 2020

New Zealand Rugby has warned there is a still a lot of work to be done before two Pacific Island teams are given the green light to join Super Rugby in 2022.

Moana Pasifika captain Michael Alaalatoa  during the match.

Moana Pasifika captain Michael Alaalatoa tests the Māori All Blacks defence. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz

Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua are NZR's "preferred partners" to join the new-look competition, alongside the existing five teams from New Zealand and five from Australia.

But NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the respective bids still had to finalise how they would be structured, their business/financial models and what their potential playing rosters and facilities would look like.

"We're very committed to doing our absolute best to see if we can make those teams a reality but there's a huge amount of work to be done and we're all very aware of the various challenges that sit in this area to try and make that happen," he said in an update following the Union's final board meeting of the year.

"But it's something that we're committed to and certainly investing a lot of time and energy of our people into to try and give it the best shot to try and get it going."

NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson.

Mark Robinson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O'Connor said his organisation was doing all it can to get the Drua bid across the line.

"Our priority now is working with New Zealand Rugby and making sure we can meet all the obligations to have a Super Rugby team playing in 2022. I think we will be a breath of fresh air into that competition if it so happens."

Fiji is targeting a number of its European-based stars to bolster their Super Rugby bid but the make-up of a permanent Moana Pasifika playing squad is less clear.

The team impressed in its on-field debut last weekend, pushing the Māori All Blacks all the way in a 28-21 defeat in Hamilton, but that was a one-off game and 18 of the 26-strong squad are already under contract with current Super Rugby teams.

The Fijian Drua are the defending NRC champions.

The Fijian Drua won the Australian National Rugby Championship in 2018. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

NZR have previously allowed just three players who are not All Blacks-eligible to be included in its five Super Rugby squads, with one of those spots set aside specifically for Pacific Island players.

That means players with dual eligibility, such as Chiefs number eight Pita Gus Sowakula or Blues lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, would go from competing for one of 200 contracts to one of only 15 if they were capped by a Pacific Island nation.

Josh Ioane starred for Moana Pasifika with 11 points off the boot but his involvement was a nod to his Samoan heritage and, aside from already being capped by the All Blacks, the Highlanders would not been keen in allowing their key playmaker to shift to a rival team.

Moana Pasifika halfback Folau Fakatava during the rugby match between M?ori All Blacks v Moana Pasifika - held at FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand.  05  December  2020

Tonga-born Moana Pasifika halfback Folau Fakatava has also been talked about a future All Black. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz

All Blacks Sevens star Salesi Rayasi is also locked into wearing a black jersey for the forseeable future and was quick to point out last week that he remained contracted to the Hurricanes.

"There's a lot of passion as we saw earlier this year, which is fantastic, but there's also a reality of the situation that we have to make sure these teams if they are to go ahead are successful and sustainable on and off the field," Robinson said.

"We're working with partners at the moment that understand that and they're really focused on ensuring they take a lead in ensuring that can happen."

Manu Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua has been watching the top 120 local players competing in a top four competition in Apia in recent weeks.

The former Highlanders midfielder said there was no shortage of talent on the island but currently they lacked opportunity.

"It would be good to work alongside whoever the Pacific team is that will be entering Super Rugby because that is our pathway. That is where we will be able to really develop our athletes and go on to become Manu Samoa players," he said.

"There's huge potential. I think where the boys can miss out on is being in systems which allow them to really grow and develop and have that consistency throughout their formative/teenage years, so once they get to 18/19 they're ready to become professional rugby players."

Meanwhile, NZR confirmed the All Blacks will host Fiji in their opening test of 2021, which will mark the first test between the two countries in a decade.