Plans are underway to create a new Super Rugby team based in Fiji in an attempt to stop players leaving the Pacific Islands for greener pastures.
The Daily Telegraph revealed on Tuesday that £20 million has already been secured to back the idea, with more than four global companies and two leading kit manufacturers having pledged to fund the proposal.
The new team could reportedly be operational by 2018 and would be based in a new 20 000-seat stadium with plans to develop the Port Denarau Marina in Fiji, close to the island’s airport in Nadi.
Ben Ryan, the Englishman who guided Fiji to their historic first Olympic gold medal when they defeated Great Britain in the sevens final in Rio, claims the move would be a “world game changer”. Some 19 per cent of professional players worldwide are Pacific Islanders or of Pacific Islands descent.
“I believe the impact of this plan would see Fiji win the World Cup one day,” Ryan told the Telegraph.
“We have shown in sevens what we can do. And if you just look at the impact the Fiji players are having on the tier one countries, they are their star players in New Zealand, Australia, England and France. That generation has gone but the future players are there and we have to make sure they stay on the island and they get the right resource, the right coaching and the fundamentals around it, like we did with the sevens, so there is no reason why we can’t dominate.
“It is not pie in the sky. Pick a world XV from the players that are playing outside Fiji and Samoa in the other international teams and you would get a team that is there or thereabouts. We have got some of the biggest companies in the world backing this. They have ties with the Pacific Islands. I have had conversations and we have got money on the table to be able to pay for all of this. We will have more money behind the team than any other Super Rugby franchise.
“We could make them the best club side in the world. Imagine the talent that we have got in France? They would all be on the first flight back.”
The plan has yet to be endorsed by Super Rugby but Ryan has outlined the proposals to World Rugby.
“No one has ever gone to Super Rugby and said ‘we would like a franchise in the islands’ and we have got more money than any other franchise in Super Rugby and we can guarantee that,” he said. “Plus, we can build a new stadium that is a 10-minute drive from Nadi airport and surrounded by 20 five-star hotels. Also, 10 of the Super Rugby teams would be within a four-hour flight of the stadium.”