The confirmation of Super Rugby Pacific’s future until 2030, announced earlier today, is another massive step for rugby amongst Pacific island nations like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
Pacific island rugby has had a couple of massive boosts in recent years, with World Rugby changing their eligibility laws, essentially allowing players to represent more than one country over the course of their career.
The expansion from Super Rugby to Super Rugby Pacific came in a similar time frame, allowing the inclusion of the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika in what was a big step for Pacific island rugby.
2022 was the competition’s inaugural season, with the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika bringing such cultural richness and authenticity to a tournament that, in all honesty, needs it.
The first ever Pacific islands derby was a sight to behold as both teams laid down their respective challenges before the match, with passion and pride bursting out of their chests. A powerful moment.
This is special 🙌
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) May 14, 2022
What the two teams in the competition have done is give players an opportunity to feel a sense of ownership of their heritage on a bigger stage. Veterans Christian Leali’ifano and Sekope Kepu signed for Moana Pasifika in a bid to give back to their heritage and help inspire and grow the next crop of players.
The eligibility rules changes align with this as the likes of Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau, Steven Luatau, and others have all run out for their countries of heritage despite previously representing the All Blacks.
However, following this year’s edition of Super Rugby Pacific, there was speculation that the tournament could disband as Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby went through their seemingly annual stand-off threatening the potential for growth and development.
Fortunately, the news is good, with an extended period confirmed, which will mean the world to Pacific islands rugby that is already growing at a rate of knots.
Translating to the national teams
Fiji’s performance in the Autumn Nations Series was an indicator of just how much development their participation in Super Rugby Pacific allows.
Of the squad that travelled north, 12 players were from the Fijian Drua, which is a fair portion of the 31-man selection, underlining that the team is satisfying its role as a feeder to the national side.
The Fijians played two games in November against Scotland and Ireland losing both. However, the scoreline will not show how coach Vern Cotter’s men tested both those Six Nations sides for long periods, with the Scots at real risk of losing at one stage in the Murrayfield Test.
That offload 🥵
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) November 13, 2022
Whilst not all of the progress can be attested to the Drua, they certainly made a big contribution to that as of the four tries scored by Fiji in the series, three of those were scored by Drua players.
The Drua’s influence on the national side will only continue to grow as the team becomes more established in Super Rugby Pacific, just as the Jaguares played a role in the current rise of Los Pumas.
The main difference is that the Jaguares were part of Super Rugby for four years, and the Pacific teams will be part of the set-up for eight by 2030 and by then, who knows how much development the two teams would have gone through.
There is always the chance that the two Pacific island sides will attract established players, such as Kepu or Leali’ifano, who want to give back to their heritage.
Ultimately, the news of the competition being secured for several more seasons is great for all parties involved, but the Pacific island teams and countries are smiling the most.
The tournament can catalyse growth in Pacific island rugby and return power to some of the game’s sleeping giants.