Pacific Islands unlikely for Super expansion

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 12:30 27/01/2013
Steve Tew
Photosport
Steve Tew

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As Super Rugby expansion looms, the Pacific Islands appear set to be left out in the cold, yet again.

This year, the three Sanzar nations will debate whether to expand the competition in 2016, as part of a new broadcast deal.

The introduction of the United States and Canada into the Pacific Nations Cup, and comments from Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters this week, confirmed those countries were being viewed as possible destinations. 

Asia and Argentina are other contenders, but, until now the Pacific Islands haven't been mentioned.

In 2013, pessimism continues to prevail about inducting an island nation or a combined team into Super Rugby.

Money and resources remain major barriers.

Former Samoan captain Mahonri Schwalger would jump at the chance to lead a breakthrough island venture, one that would create pathways for aspiring players and strengthen Pacific rugby.

The performances of Samoa and Tonga at the World Cup and during last year's European tours have only enhanced the argument to assist their success.

"Samoa has been trying to break into the competition for the last 10 years," Schwalger said. "The thing we released is it's all about money. All the islands struggle financially. It comes down to sponsors and money to get our best players.

"That's the only downfall about the islands; they don't have the resources to compete with the big countries.

"My heart will always be apart of the Pacific Islands. I would be the first one to put my hand up to play for a team from there."

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew is open to possible expansion, provided player welfare concerns are taken into account and the number of games doesn't increase.

In response to the Island debate, Tew confirmed unless a wealthy philanthropist was prepared to bankroll a team, their inclusion faced many challenges.

"There are certainly some arguments that from a rugby perspective we would like to bring the Pacific Islands in to our competitions in a bigger way," he said. "Economically it's hard to see how that might work, but that's sitting there.

"It comes down to the ability of a team to have an economic base. There's no point having a team in Fiji, Samoa or Tonga, or a combined team, if you don't have the financial power to make it work.

"One of the challenges is a large amount of their talent is earning a living in the Northern Hemisphere, where they're getting paid more than our players."

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Facilities in the Islands need drastic improvement for any Super Rugby team to survive there, but Schwalger suggested they could find a home in New Zealand's largest city.

"If they want a great place to be based it would be Auckland, it's the biggest Pacific community in the world," Schwalger said.

Finding competent administrators to run the franchise could be another issue. Corruption claims have sullied Island rugby at times and there is also history of disagreements when they are required to work together.

"If they want Island rugby to go forward they have to come to some sort of agreement," Schwalger said. "You need people you can trust. I hope it will work out, but my gut feeling is it won't happen. It doesn't look pretty at the moment."

The competitiveness of Canada and the USA has been questioned, while South Africa will push for a sixth team. 

Any outcome could take some time as a unanimous decision must be reached between the three unions.

- Stuff

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