Fijian, Pasifika teams join Super Rugby Pacific for 2022
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The Super Rugby Pacific tournament will kick off next February with the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika teams confirmed to join the five New Zealand and five Australian franchises in the new competition.
The Super Rugby tournament expanded from a trans-Tasman competition into a four-continent competition featuring teams from Argentina, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand and Australia until it was shelved last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand and Australia restarted their own domestic five-team tournaments before restoring the international element, which is now set for expansion with 12 teams in an 18-week season starting Feb. 18.
Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos echoed other leading officials from the sport by saying “this is a game-changer for rugby in the Pacific, and indeed, the rest of the rugby world.”
Chris Lendrum, New Zealand’s general manager for professional rugby, said the inclusion of the two Pacific teams would increase the competition’s legacy.
“Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will add an enormous amount of energy, skill and talent to the competition, not to mention a passionate support base,” Lendrum said in a statement Monday. “The Pasifika nations have added so much to world rugby over the years and this is an opportunity to enhance (it).”
Each team will play seven home and seven away matches in the regular season, with the top eight advancing to the quarterfinals. The two new teams will play each other twice.
The Moana Pasifika team is likely to play most of its home matches in New Zealand.
The Fiji Rugby Union hasn’t yet confirmed a home venue, although the Drua team has played in a second-tier competition in Australia previously, winning the National Rugby Championship title in 2018.
World Rugby announced the proposed Super Rugby Pacific expansion in March.
When the idea was first floated, Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor described it as the “missing piece of our rugby puzzle.”
“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,” he said.
More than 20% of professional rugby players have Fijian, Samoan or Tongan heritage.
Prior to the reorganisation of Super Rugby at the start of the professional era, Fiji had a team competing against provinces from Australia and New Zealand in either a South Pacific championship, Super 6 or Super 10 competitions.
But that participation ended when the fully professional Super 12 competition was launched in 1996, with franchises from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Fiji has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at the Rugby World Cup in the traditional 15-a-side format, but has been dominant on the sevens circuit and has won the gold medal in both Olympic men’s rugby sevens tournaments.
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