Having got so much wrong with its expansion strategy in recent years, Super Rugby is on track to score a massive victory with plans advancing to set up a team in the Pacific Islands.

The Herald understands that Sanzaar officials have targeted the Islands as the most viable expansion territory as part of their strategic plan to adapt the competition in 2020.

The desire to set up a new team - most likely in Fiji - is genuine and as such it is believed Fijian Rugby officials have been asked to put together a comprehensive and compelling case to be included.

Given how hard it is to bring new teams into Super Rugby, the plan is to give Fiji the better part of two years to ready themselves for entry in 2020.


With Fiji having shown consistent form internationally since 2012 there are few concerns about playing resource and ability.

They acquitted themselves superbly at the 2015 World Cup in the toughest pool and recently defeated Scotland while running Australia close.

Fiji are also the Olympic sevens champions and if they are granted a licence to set up a Super Rugby side, it is likely they will be able to pull back some of their best players who are currently in Europe or Japan.

There is also an expectation that the new team, should it go ahead, will likely be open to players from Samoa, Tonga and other parts of the Pacific.

But while the box may be largely ticked on the high-performance side, the bigger issue for Sanzaar is gaining confidence in finance and governance.

Fiji has in the last two years hosted games between the Chiefs and Crusaders that were well organised, well attended and well funded by sponsors.

But there is a huge difference between hosting one-off games between two New Zealand teams and operating a permanent team.

Super Rugby's managing body is looking for reassurances that a team in the Islands will be financially viable and sustainable. They simply can't have another expansion venture blow up in their face.


The current broadcast deal for Super Rugby expires at the end of 2019 and in early 2016, Sanzaar commissioned a major review to determine how the competition should be shaped and structured after that.

There was an unspoken implication that major expansion was the likely outcome when that work began.

There had long been loose ideas within Sanzaar that Super Rugby would be taken to the West Coast of the US, possibly the East Coast, too, potentially Canada, China and other parts of Asia.

But the appetite for such an ambitious expansion has been dulled due to the difficulties the competition has suffered in recent years after introducing teams from Argentina and Japan and increasing Australia's allocation to five and South Africa's to six.

The grand plan has failed and next year Super Rugby will be reduced to at least 16 teams - South Africa have already axed the Kings and Cheetahs - but probably 15 with Australia set to also cut one of their teams.

"The Pacific Islands have been discussed at length," Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos told the Herald last year.

"We just cannot ignore that from a high-performance perspective they tick every box and, yes very much so, they are part of the thinking going forward. We have got to get the Pacific Islands included into the structure. How or what it will look like, I can't say right now. But we know there is quality there - they are almost set up and ready to go and get in there and play.

"Where do you geographically locate them and how do you fund it? They are certainly one of the geographies, teams and group of players, who will be considered because they can add value to the competition.

"Yes, it has to be underpinned by strong commercial factors so it makes sense, but at the same time you can't ignore or fail to appreciate they have enough quality in their high-performance structure in order to be competitive."