The Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) has endorsed the proposal of having a combined Pacific Islands rugby team enter Super Rugby.
S.R.U.’s Chief Executive Officer, Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai, revealed this to the Samoa Observer during an interview on Monday.
Faleomavaega’s comments follow a recent report by Newshub of a potential Pacific Islands team – Pacific Force - comprising players from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to enter Super Rugby in two years’ time.
“S.R.U. has endorsed the recommendations being brought forward and we are also treading very carefully around that as well because this was done before,” he said.
Faleomavaega said the concept of having a combined team is not new. “Only this time, the New Zealand Government approached S.R.U., Tonga Rugby Union and Fiji Rugby Union in June last year for a meeting in Auckland."
“They were supportive of the idea. The New Zealand Government was looking into a way of how they can support the Pacific rugby teams and the concept of having a Pacific rugby team in the Super Rugby competition, which is under S.A.N.Z.A.R. (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina).”
“The proposal was put to us whether we were keen on exploring the opportunity of a study to see whether a Pacific team would work, so the three rugby unions gave their endorsements to the project and that project was funded by the N.Z. Rugby Union to look at how that could be done.”
Faleomavaega highlighted whether the proposal will go through depends on S.A.N.Z.A.R’s decision to open the competition.
He mentioned when the study was being carried out at the time, S.A.N.Z.A.R. had agreed to reduce the number of teams from 18 to 15.
“So it’s just a submission for S.A.N.Z.A.R. when it reopens up again in 2021.
“The window of opportunities S.A.N.Z.A.R. will look at again will be after the next four year cycle, in 2021 when the opportunity will come up again for review after the current format that’s on at the moment – Super 15.”
Faleomavaega explained: “So the study has been completed, the rugby unions have received a copy of that report. The recommendations in that report have been endorsed by the S.R.U. to support the concept, but it hasn’t gone into any details on how that will be funded.
“It’s is definitely the team will be funded by a private sector investor, along the same concept of the other Super 15 teams in the competition.
“So that is where we are at the moment, if it does come up, it’ll probably be a separate entity altogether, it won’t be run by the three unions. It’ll be a separate entity set up to whoever the investors would be to run the Pacific Islands team.”
He said S.R.U. would be ecstatic if an opportunity opens because while it will be great for the Samoan players, it would also be good for the competition to have flair of Pacific rugby showcased in an international competition.
“I think because if you see, all our players are playing in European competition and I think as far as we’re concerned, the Super 15 competition is a great way for our players - Samoa, Tonga and Fiji - to be involved in. I think it is a great stepping stone for Samoan players to be involved in that.”
Faleomavaega said the only challenge to such move is finance. He said there are a few overseas individuals who have indicated their will to support the move for a combined Pacific Islands team.
“I think there are challenges like any other union in the Pacific in terms of finance, but our relationship with our member unions in Tonga and Fiji is very strong.
“I think we work closely together along areas of development with world rugby, in the current competition that we have, the tri nations, we work well with them and I think the opportunity into an elite competition like the Super 15 will go a long way for our players.
“I think we recognize that we need to work together to be able to fuel a strong team that reflects a flair our Pacific Island rugby. Also I think we need to work together on the financial side to have a sustainable team join that concept because it involves a lot of money and also I think to sustain a strong team, we need to pull our resources collectively, in terms of player resource, but we recognize that it is a huge undertaking.”
Faleomavaega is adamant if the formation of a combined team is approved, the three island nations would have a huge product to offer to the competition.
“The team would be open to anybody who wants to play, but then again the choice comes down to what can be offered. As we know, a lot of our players go to Europe or Japan because of the money they are offered to play the game, but in terms of what’s on offer it would probably not be the same with what players are offered in their overseas clubs.”
An early reported stated under the plan, the team would be based in Suva, Fiji because it is the biggest country. It would also play some home games in Samoa, T0 onga, Auckland and Sydney. The team would be set up as independent franchise and enter the competition in 2021.