Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Pacific team likely in Super rugby

An Auckland-based team of players from the islands features in proposal by NZ franchise coaches.

Photo / Paul Estcourt
Photo / Paul Estcourt

Ignored for years by the New Zealand Rugby Union, Pacific Islands rugby could be about to receive a dramatic boost with an invitation to play in a restructured Super rugby competition.

Based in Auckland, the Pacific Islands team would be aligned with New Zealand in the proposed rejigged tournament which would take effect from 2016.

Super rugby as we know it will finish at the end of the current broadcasting deal following the 2015 season, with global body Sanzar now consulting its constituents for the relaunch.

The Herald has learned that the New Zealand Super rugby franchise coaches have put a case for an 18-team competition featuring the Pacific Islands newcomers, along with a team from Japan, which would be aligned with the Australian franchises (see table).

South Africa's sixth team would be filled either by the Southern Kings or the Lions, two sides who must fight it out for inclusion.

The other major talking point under the proposal is the possibility of New Zealand players retaining the ability to represent the All Blacks despite playing for overseas Super teams - a more elegant solution for a Ma'a Nonu-type scenario, but which will regardless be seen as a watering-down of the NZRU's policy of selecting only locally based players for the national team.

It is thought that a Pacific-based team in Auckland would provide a route to the top for players with a background in the city's big Pasifika population and would look to wrest supporters from the Blues. While the team might struggle initially, it is thought it would be more competitive than the Melbourne-based Rebels, who finished last in their first season two years ago and 13th and 12th since.

Argentina would not be invited to submit a team but could provide players to other franchises. Argentine rugby supporters would be likely to see this as a snub, however, given their national team is in the second year of a revamped Rugby Championship which also features New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Under the terms of the proposal, teams from each country would play each other home and away, as they do now, plus the other teams in their conference once.

The playoffs would revert to a standard quarter-final, semifinal, final system (the top four in each conference would qualify for the quarters) rather than the current qualifier arrangement.

While the proposal breaks ground in several areas, none will be more pleased than supporters of Pacific Islands rugby should these changes come to fruition.

Samoa, Tonga and Fiji fight way above their weight on the international stage and have contributed some of the best players ever to have worn the black jersey of New Zealand or gold of Australia.

At the last World Cup in 2011, Tonga pulled off the upset of the tournament in New Zealand when beating eventual finalists France despite a limited preparation time and a tougher playing schedule than the Tier One nations. Many of the top players from the islands play in Europe.

Despite their contribution to the world game, national teams from the Pacific Islands continue to struggle financially and receive little recognition.

The All Blacks have never played a test in the islands.

- APNZ

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