In a significant step forward for Pacific Island rugby, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua have been granted conditional licences to join a planned new professional competition next year, New Zealand Rugby announced today.
The NZR board's decision to approve licences is a major step toward the two Pasifika teams joining NZR's existing five Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa clubs and Rugby Australia's (RA) five Super Rugby AU teams in a new tournament being planned for 2022 and is conditional on their final business plans and RA's support.
NZR board member and former Manu Samoa and All Blacks legend Sir Michael Jones said the announcement was a significant milestone.
"We are now on the cusp of realising a long-held desire to include Pasifika in our professional game and the opportunity to embrace all that comes with that.
"With the approval of licences, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua can now forge ahead with the final stages of their business plans and crucially start to lock in their playing and coaching rosters for next season. It's an exciting time for rugby."
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said: "We are moving into the final phase of planning for 2022 and beyond, and we have confidence that Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will be able to meet the conditions of the licence, which includes final sign off on a sustainable business plan by 30 June.
"In the next two months we will be working with Rugby Australia and the two Pasifika teams to formalise their place in the new competition for what we believe will kick off an exciting, new era for the professional game."
Moana Pasifika Steering Committee Co-Chair and CEO of the Pacific Business Trust Pelenato Sakalia said: "We are excited to finally be so close to bringing the dream to reality, but there is still hard work to do, and we cannot afford to miss the moment. This decision on a licence enables Moana Pasifika to proceed with confidence and complete a number of financial obligations to sign off in the coming weeks, and formalise our player, coach and staff recruitment."
Fiji Rugby Union Chair Conway Begg added: "This is a big moment for the Drua and will provide the impetus for us to finalise our equity partners, appoint coaches, contract players and confirm our commercial partners. We are on the home stretch and excitement is building across Fiji."
Confirmation of the two licences comes five months after NZR confirmed that Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua were its preferred partners to explore the entry of Pasifika-linked teams in future professional competitions.
Moana Pasifika took the field for the first time on December 5 last year when they played the Māori All Blacks in Hamilton. Then last month World Rugby committed NZ$2.3m per annum to help the two Pasifika bids build their business case.
Established in 2017, the Fijian Drua have already built a formidable reputation on the field after winning the Australian National Rugby Championship in 2018, in only their second year in the competition.