Opinion: Moana Pasifika needs to become completely self-sufficient

1:19 pm on 4 May 2021

Opinion - Self-sufficiency can't come soon enough for the Moana Pasifika Super Rugby franchise.

Moana Pasifika during the cultural challenge before the match between Moana Pasifika and the Maori All Blacks 2020.

Moana Pasifika during a cultural challenge before a match with the Maori All Blacks in 2020. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

You might have noticed a bit of hot air being talked, in relation to the new venture.

Not fair this and not fair that has been the basic tone of it, with broadcaster Ken Laban and Pacific Rugby Players' Welfare boss Daniel Leo at the forefront.

I'm paraphrasing a little bit here, but both men allege not enough is being done to make Moana Pasifika a success and that there is potential for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to run a bit of interference.

Maybe, maybe not. But there's a really quick way to sort all of this stuff out.

When Moana Pasifika can pay its own way and organise its own facilities and staff and playing roster, then we can talk about fairness. While the fledgling franchise remains dependent on World Rugby funds and NZR resources, then a lot of these points are moot.

In case you missed it, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua have been given tacit approval to join Super Rugby in 2022, along with the five existing teams from New Zealand and five from Australia.

World Rugby are stumping up the cash for the two new teams, while they develop the necessary infrastructure and business plans to show they can rustle up a budget of $10 million per annum.

The Drua are part-way there, having been involved in Australia's second-tier competition. Moana Pasifika are basically starting from scratch, though, and will rely heavily on New Zealand to get off the ground.

The team will largely be based in Auckland and staffed by ex-All Blacks and the like, which doesn't sit well with Leo. Laban, meanwhile, is miffed that Moana Pasifika won't be able to include NZR-contracted forwards such as Ofa Tuungafasi, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Asafo Aumua and Vaea Fifita on their roster.

Without access to some of the best Pasifika talent New Zealand has to offer, Laban argues, Moana Pasifika won't be an on-field success.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you're dependent on the generosity of others.

World Rugby have thrown good money after bad at the Samoa and Tonga rugby unions. Where it's gone is hard to say, but it hasn't led to demonstrable improvements in either nation's national team. Far from it, in fact.

The Fijian Drua are unbeaten at home this season.

Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua have been given tacit approval to join Super Rugby in next year. Photo: Fiji Rugby

Now World Rugby have pledged three years worth of funding to the Moana Pasifika concept, only with a few strings attached. Most obvious is that the off-field expertise will be provided by former All Blacks such as Kevin Senio and Michael Jones.

Jones is also a former Samoa player and coach and only recently resigned from the NZR board, while Senio comes from a management position at the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association. That's among the things that angers Leo and furthers his suspicion that Moana Pasifika will simply "become NZ's 6th Super team,'' as he alleged on Twitter.

Laban is right when he says "there is nobody in the world of rugby that wants to see the Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua teams fail.''

Only he wonders if "our game has got the backbone or the stomach to see this through.''

Except that it's not World Rugby or NZR's duty to prop these teams up.

These outfits - as we've repeatedly been told - are designed to raise the profile and standard of Fijian, Tongan and Samoan players and make each nation more competitive on the world stage.

And, again, who wouldn't want to see that?

But until, particularly in Moana Pasifika's case, they're able to achieve that under their own steam, then there will have to be an acceptance that things might not happen in a fashion that necessarily suits men such as Laban and Leo.

That there will still be Tongans, such as Fifita and Tuungafasi, who will declare their allegiance to the All Blacks and who will play for New Zealand franchises and that World Rugby and NZR will want people they know and can rely upon to occupy management positions.

Neither are the perfect outcome, but they're certainly realistic ones while Moana Pasifika gets on its feet and finds a way to sustain itself.

Covid-19 has made rugby administrators in New Zealand and Australia take an overdue look to their own backyard - rather than, say, Asia or North America - to broaden Super Rugby's base. Who knows when - or if - Argentine and South African teams will be back, but it's great that Fijian and Pasifika teams are here now.

What would be greater still is for Moana Pasifika to develop the means to become completely autonomous.

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