Make no mistake about it. The announcement that the Auckland Blues and the Queensland Reds are coming to Samoa for the first Super rugby fixture on these shores in June is an exciting opportunity.
Why it has taken so long to make this happen though is a mystery.
We say this knowing that it is a win-win situation for both the travelling teams as well as Samoa. Truth be told, there will be some logistical challenges and whether the fixtures can make money is debatable.
But then these games should never be about money. They are more or less goodwill gestures to show a commitment by S.A.N.Z.A.R and the big rugby nations not to exclude the minnows from the growing advent of professionalism – which has been the case for some time now.
But to see that this fixture is finally happening, it is super exciting. Fiji experienced it last year and now the rugby faithful on these shores will get to taste it this year.
Suffice to say the historical event will add flavor to Samoan rugby’s 2017 international window, which already has the Welsh team on the cards.
Both fixtures will indeed make for a pretty good couple of weeks for rugby fans and the community alike. That’s not to mention the flow on benefits for businesses and the community.
The fact is apart from rugby coverage on TV, supporters on these shores face a famine every year when it comes to quality test matches at Apia Park. Aside from the odd Pacific nations test, quality games are far and few.
But that’s about to change, starting this year.
Earlier this week, the Auckland Blues Chief Executive Michael Redman and Prime Minister and Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, had some great news.
“This is a positive step for our country,” Tuilaepa said. “We had the Manu Samoa and All Blacks in 2015 and now in 2017 we will host the Blues vs Reds.
“This will attract some great tourism and overseas activity, and it’s good to see such great support behind this match with our sponsors such as BlueSky.
“We hope in future to attract more select games to Samoa in our Rugby Union field.”
We couldn’t agree more with the Prime Minister in this regard.
There is no reason why Apia Park cannot host these fixtures on an annual basis.
It would be so awesome if this is the start of something regular for the Pacific.
And what better team to kick-start the fixtures than the Blues. Coached by a Samoan and captained by a Samoan, the Blues will no doubt feel right at home.
Which is why Coach Tana Umaga knows the game will be an emotional one for him and his players.
“As someone with Samoa heritage, I am very proud to be part of the first Super Rugby match played in Samoa and of course a number of our team have family members living there,” said Umaga. “We are honoured to play there, and will be a unique experience. At the same time it will be important to also perform. This will be our eighth game in a row and our final Super Rugby game before our bye and the international window.”
But let’s not forget the Reds. The Queensland team also has many players with Samoan connections and they too will jump at the chance to play at Apia Park.
What’s even more exciting is that the fixture will coincide with Samoa’s 55th Independence Celebrations. We can hardly wait.
The challenge is how do we make this an annual fixture.
There is no doubt that there is a strong support for it happening regularly.
Take All Blacks veteran Jerome Kaino for instance. He wants to see Super Rugby matches in the Pacific Islands to become a permanent fixture.
“We’re really proud of that fact that we’re pioneers to be able to take that game to Samoa - you know being the first franchise to take it there. And it’s only fitting that we get to do that,” Kaino said.
“The possibility of having a fixture in the islands every year is really special for us, but also for Samoa, Fiji, whatever nation it is because they offer so much to our game here in New Zealand and it’s important that we give back in that kind of way and take games over there.”
Well Kaino has hit it on the nail. While it might have taken a long time for it to happen, the fact we are on the verge of seeing history created is an exciting time for everyone involved. This is without a doubt a very positive step for rugby as a global sport. Congratulations to everyone involved in making this happen. Now bring on June!
Have a restful weekend Samoa, God bless!