Time for Pacific rugby to go pro
JEREMY VAN VLIET
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There comes a time in every younger sibling's life that others are not going to do everything for you anymore, that you must act on your own.
This is what the Pacific Island rugby teams must realise. They must take hold of their own future in the best way possible.
The argument that the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) owes Pacific rugby due to "stealing" their players is misguided; these players consider themselves New Zealanders and the fact that they do is down to natural migration from the Islands.
It only takes a look to the latest census to realise this is not an NZRU poaching issue. Polynesians are gifted athletes and are bound to have a high representation in impact sports.
Earlier this year Zac Guildford criticised the NZRU, saying: "Unfortunately, the Pacific Islands don't have that money so they're being overlooked by the New Zealand Rugby Union, which is a bit sad."
In a way Guildford has a point, but, like his form, it is off the mark. The NZRU is a business and must make money to survive like any other business. If it is unable to make a profit then there will be no wages for players like Guildford.
With the six-nations comprising of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, and the Rugby Championship including New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina, you have 10 out of the top 13 nations in the world are in a settled annual competition.
The likes of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Japan, USA and Canada complete the rest of the top 16 spots in the world rankings, and these nations need to put more emphasis on the Pacific Rim Competition. Since this competition's inception in 2006 the teams involved have never been settled, this year we saw USA and Canada join the tournament for the first time, while Samoa opted out to play in South Africa.
Commercial partners invest for a known return, if they are unsure of what future shape the competition will be they will be unlikely to invest great amounts.
There may not be much in the way of money from sponsors and ticket sales within the islands but there is in Japan and the US. If we could guarantee a multi-year tournament with these nations, sell the television rights, sign sponsors that benefit from exposure in these markets, there would be income to grow the game.
Games could also be played in Auckland or Brisbane where there are large Polynesian communities.
Japan and USA are in the sights of the NZRU for extra income and they are considering them for a possible inclusion into Super Rugby, I personally hope they don't. There are many reasons for this but one reason is that once this income from the Pacific Rim comes rolling in, they need to create a Super Rugby / Heineken cup-type tournament (the club competitions of the Rugby Championship and six-nations' countries respectively).
With one team from the likes of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, three from Japan and two each from the western coast of Canada and USA, a 10-team competition to develop depth within these countries for the players that haven't left to go to the riches of Europe, and possibly to entice some of these players back with the extra income that they would now likely have. The Islands would benefit from Japan and the US the same way that New Zealand benefits from the money generated from South Africa's involvement in Super Rugby.
I am also a great believer in a Pacific Islanders rugby team. We see how immense an occasion the Lions tour is, and while the Pacific nations wouldn't have the legions of fans traveling with them that the Lions do, what they could offer is a team that would play attractive football and compete in a three-match series against arguably the best nations on their home turf.
We saw this year when the Lions toured Australia and France toured New Zealand, we had a very one-sided quadrangular tournament with South Africa playing Italy, Samoa and a weakened Scotland. How electrifying would it be to see the Pacific nations playing one of these nations every four years? The British and Irish nations don't lose their identity with a tour every four years and I don't think the Islands would either; they have experimented with this on three occasions playing various teams in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Yet again commercial partners need to have some guarantee of what the future holds for a significant investment, so there needs to be some kind of structure.
It is time for the Pacific nations to forget their amateur mindset and embrace the professional climate in the best way possible. They need the NZRU to share their business model with them and to learn from this.
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