World Rugby announced that the governing body will be funding two domestic Pacific Island teams to help them compete in Super Rugby competition.
Subject to approval from New Zealand Rugby, the move will see World Rugby will be spending annual £1.2 million over three years on two franchises Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika in additional to their funding by their respective unions and private equity funding with an aim to join Super Rugby from the 2022 season.
“The game-changing potential of the executive committee’s decision to support Pacific Island Super Rugby franchises should not be underestimated. From a strategic perspective, it provides the best-possible platform and pathway for the Islands to reach their potential," said World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont.
“On a human level, this is absolutely the right thing to do. It is great for the players, allowing them to make the choice for the first time to be part of a local professional team at the top level of elite club rugby.
“While recognising that there are still steps to complete, I would like to thank everyone involved, including the unions as well as New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, for their full commitment to this project which is great for rugby.”
Fijian Drua has been competing in the second tier competition in Australia in the National Rugby Championship where they reached play-off in 2017 and 2019 while clinching the title in the 2018 season.
Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor believes Drua competing with the top domestic teams will lay a strong foundation for the national side.
“We are excited about the possibility of the Fijian Drua joining the Super Rugby competition in 2022,” he said. “It will be a dream come true for not only Fiji rugby but for Pacific Island rugby. We have been urging for such an opportunity and it is almost in our grip.
“This is the missing piece to our rugby puzzle in the Pacific Islands and more importantly to Fiji rugby. Being included in Super Rugby completes our elite pathway and will allow our best players to have the opportunity to play professional rugby right here at home.
“We are not over the line yet. However, we are working very hard to meet all the requirements set by NZR, including strict financial diligence requirements by the end of March to satisfy the NZR Board that we will be able to field a strong team on the field and a sustainable and profitable franchise.”
Meanwhile, Moana Pasifika that includes players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa played their only game in May last year against Maori All Blacks which they lost 21-28.
“This is a huge step forward for Lakapi Samoa and for Pacific Islands rugby," said Lakapi Samoa chief executive Vincent Fepuleai.
"We have been reliant on our overseas-based players representing Manu Samoa, but the Moana Pasifika provides the missing link and pathway for our players to stay in the southern hemisphere. We are very grateful to World Rugby for this opportunity.”