17 May 2018

Sport: Pacific Super Rugby proposal receives player backing

1:03 pm on 17 May 2018

A proposed Pacific Islands Super Rugby team has the backing of a number of former players and administrators.

But player representatives have also emphasised the financial and logisitical challenges that still need to be overcome.

New Zealand Rugby is looking over a government commissioned feasibility study on the establishment of a Pacific Islands representative team in Super Rugby.

Sir Bryan Williams is a former Manu Samoa head coach.

Sir Bryan Williams is a former Manu Samoa head coach. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Under the plan the team would be based in Suva and also play home games in Samoa, Tonga, Auckland and Sydney.

Former All Black Sir Bryan Williams, who coached and had two sons play for Manu Samoa, said all the island nations would benefit.

"One of the things that's been to the real detriment of Pacific Island rugby is the fact that they're not involved in Super Rugby and, as a result, they can't generate the sort of income that everyone else can," he said.

"It's sort of hand-to-mouth for those unions at the moment (and) if it comes to pass then it will certainly be a big boost to Pacific Island rugby."

"It would give the players the right sort of competition week to week and generate the right sort of income that will allow them to compete at the very top level," said the former Hurricanes assistant coach.

"They get some grants from World Rugby but not enough to compete at the top level of international rugby. We've seen the demise of Samoan rugby at the top level - they've gone from seventh in the world to 16th."

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Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke said having a Pacific Island team involved in Super Rugby is nothing but good for the players and the local communities but there was still a number of sticking points to be considered and agreed on.

"Anybody who knows rugby can understand that that's the type of detail that we have to consider to make sure that it actually works. You don't want to repeat past mistakes," he said.

"Without going into obviously the confidentiality of what goes on in these types of research those are definitely factors that we think are hugely important and they are being listened to.

"From here it's just about making sure as it evolves that the type of detail, in terms of home and away and exactly time on the road and where it will be based, come out to be as best as possible. It's very complex - lots of different nations involved logistically, politically so a lot of water to go under the bridge yet."

Pacific Rugby Players Chair Hale T Pole (L), CEO Aayden Clarke (2R) and board member Seilala Mapusua (R) with Manu Samoa internationals Chris Vui and Jack Lam.

with Manu Samoa capatin Chris Vui and board members Seilala Mapusua and Jack Lam during November 2017 tour team visit.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke (2R) Photo: Supplied/Pacific Rugby Players

Former Flying Fijians captain Deacon Manu believes a Pacific-based team in Super Rugby is long overdue.

"I think most people could tell you that it is feasible and just making sure that it's done in the correct manner and it's got enough support," he said.

"Because the last thing you want to happen is to have a team to come up in the Pacific Islands without the correct funding model and the support structure as well."

Former Fiji captain Deacon Manu played for the Chiefs and Blues in Super Rugby.

Former Fiji captain Deacon Manu played for the Chiefs and Blues in Super Rugby. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Manu packed down in the scrum for both the Chiefs and Blues Super Rugby sides during his career and was confident current Fiji, Samoa and Tonga internationals would be keen to be involved in the proposed team.

"I certainly think it's very appealing to be able to be home for part of your professional career," he said.

"I think it's a huge attraction, especially with Pacific Islanders and their families are a big thing that when you want to make sure that they're looking after there's no place like home for a player.

"But in that regard it's a world market in terms of dollar signs for contracts so it's got to be mentioned the economics have to be calculated and factored in as well."

Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo has been suspended for four weeks.

French-based Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo previously played for the Waratahs and Crusaders. Photo: Photosport

Aayden Clarke said a combined Pacific Islands team would be a huge boost to the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga national teams.

"What it provides is more opportunity for the young players coming through," he said.

"The ability to make a decision on would they like to stay with their families and earn a living in the Pacific or would they like to go to Europe. At the moment they don't even have that option."

Currently, New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby teams only offer only a limited number of contracts to players not eligible for the All Blacks or Wallabies and Aayden Clarke said a Pacific Islands team would help players agonising between their heritage and livlihoods.

"Obviously New Zealand and Australia first and foremost want to protect their own backyard and have as many players on the field that are eligible for their national teams, which you can understand," he said.

"But from our point of view recognising the contribution of Pacific Island players is also very important. At the moment, within the current rules, there's only a certain amount of spots that are available for guys who aren't eligible for these national teams.

"And that does come into the decision making of players whether they're going to make themselves available for international rugby or not or maybe wait until they're playing abroad."

Jack Lam playing for Samoa against Ireland in 2013.

Former Hurricanes flanker Jack Lam moved to England after declaring for Manu Samoa. Photo: Photosport