All Blacks great Sir Michael Jones hails the new deal, conditional on final business plans and Rugby Australia’s support.
Sir Michael Jones believes Wednesdays decision to formally open the Super Rugby door to two Pacific Island entities is a landmark moment, not just for those rugby-mad nations, but indeed for the sport in general.
New Zealand Rugby announced at its Auckland offices that conditional licences have been granted to Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua to join a new Super Rugby competition from next year.
The decision follows World Rugby recently granting a £1.2m (NZ$2.3 million) annual funding package for an initial three-year period to support the two franchises in joining Super Rugby from 2022.
Nasi Manu leads Moana Pasifikas cultural challenge before their match against the Mori All Blacks at Hamilton last year.
New Zealand Rugby said its boards decision to approve the licences was a major step towards the two Pasifika teams joining the existing 10 existing Super Rugby sides from both sides of the Tasman in a new competition being planned for 2022. It remains conditional on their final business plans and RA’s signoff.
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Jones, the All Blacks great who also made one appearance for Manu Samoa, had been a big part of getting the inclusion of the two Pacific Island sides over the line through his position on the board of NZ Rugby.
Its hugely significant, he told Stuff at the announcement. Its a landmark moment I believe to potentially see a shift and a mechanism to move Samoan and Tongan rugby in particular, and to continue to grow and build, and start to fulfil that true potential weve always known is there.
In that sense its a real groundbreaking moment in the journey for Pacific rugby.
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Salesi Rayasi of Moana Pasifika offloads the ball during their match against the Mori All Blacks in December.
But beyond that, Jones said he felt proud that New Zealand Rugby had finally done the right thing by its the Pasifika people who had played such a big part in the growth of the game in this country.
I feel extremely proud as a Kiwi boy, a New Zealand rugby stakeholder, an ex-player and current board member. Its very authentic, its a very sincere commitment to the region, to the Pacific, he added.
It is acknowledgement of the great contribution Pasifika have made to our game. On every front its a good thing for New Zealand Rugby and the buy-in has been really powerful along the way.
Yes, weve got a few things to keep sorting through, but its a moment for us to celebrate.
Initially at least the Moana Pasifika team will be based in south Auckland, though Jones says there is a longer term vision for the side to have more of a footprint in the islands when circumstances allow. The organisation is investigating the use of Mount Smart Stadium as a home venue, while Pukekohes Navigation Homes Stadium has also been cited.
The Drua are set to be based in Suva and closely aligned to the Fiji national union.
And Jones told Stuff he did not believe the Moana Pasifika side would compromise existing pathways for rugby players of Pacific heritage in the New Zealand system.
The Blues and the Chiefs have named their first women’s squads for their historic Super Rugby clash on May 1.
Ive always been clear in my mind the power of the All Blacks dream is such that for those of us particularly born in New Zealand, we are always going to pursue that dream. I dont think that will ever change.
But this does allow those who are of Pacific descent who might have been born there, or might have grown up there, or might see an opportunity to represent their parents and weve heard that kind of rhetoric in the past from some of the boys to potentially represent Moana Pasifika.
It doesnt mean if you put your colours to Moana Pasifika that you cant necessarily still pursue the All Blacks dream. We might also get a couple of the old boys coming back, like Steven Luatua, or you could get Maa Nonu wanting to put on the colours in his final year, and I think weve got to allow for that because it is a franchise.
And Jones does not see Moana Pasifika compromising what the Blues are doing, both in terms of fan engagement and player recruitment and development.
The Blues system is sophisticated and powerful and the cream of what the Blues will continue to look for will continue to go through the Blues system, he told Stuff.
But what you will see is a lot of talent that might not otherwise have been picked up in this programme. Thats great for rugby, and great for young people in Pacific communities. The talent identification is very much around those who are going to commit to Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, and I dont believe that will impinge on talent going into the Blues.
While the approval is conditional, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson told Stuff he was confident the two teams would meet the conditions of the licence, which includes final sig off on a sustainable business plan by June 30.
We just need further development of the business plan, looking at things like finalising investors and corporate structure that sits behind the teams, and we need to work with Rugby Australia on not only getting comfort with the teams, but the competition as well.
Were in regular dialogue with Australia and its progressing quite well.
Robinson said both expansion franchises had made immense progress over the last two months and he was confident they could soon begin the crucial process of assembling teams.
Its always a challenge for an expansion team to be successful immediately, but you look at the talent base they have to draw on, you look at where the Drua are potentially with a strong backbone of a Fijian test team, and you look at some of the conversations Moana Pasifika are having with former internationals, as well as their own pipeline of players coming through the islands, and its pretty exciting.
We really want these teams to have a connection back to the islands and be drawing on that talent. Thats really important in terms of not only how they can benefit their national teams but also how it works with New Zealand rugby as well.