Are Fiji Closing in on Super Rugby Franchise?

FIJI_SA_023“ (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Craig Boyd

Fijian rugby union could be handed another huge boost following the news that a Super Rugby franchise could soon be formed on the Pacific Island. Following Fiji’s incredible gold medal success at last summer’s Rio Games, it appears as though the tiny island that has long punched above its weight in world rugby has a real chance of establishing itself among the best in the world on a regular basis. With 19 percent of professional players around the globe either Pacific Islanders of descendants of islanders, having a Super Rugby franchise based in Fiji is being viewed as a way of stopping the huge player drain from the region.

Long respected as one of the toughest teams in world rugby, especially when it comes to rugby sevens, the lack of any real domestic scene has hurt Fiji, and other Pacific Islanders, keeping their best players. In fact, there are currently more than 160 Fijian players plying their trade in France, and a host of international teams boast Pacific Island-born players, including England duo Semesa Rokoduguni and Nathan Hughes, who both recently represented their adopted nation against the country of their birth. On the back of the country’s remarkable Olympic triumph, in which the tiny nation beat Great Britain in the final to earn Fiji’s first ever summer games gold medal, rugby union in the country could be set for another major milestone in its history. 

Despite reaching the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup in both 1987 and 2007, Fiji have never been able to really match those bigger nations in the 15-a-side game. Due in some part to the consistent stream of players leaving the country to ply their trade elsewhere, as well as the shoestring budget the country’s rugby association are forced to work under, a Super League franchise on the island would go a long way to at least cutting the financial gap between Fiji and the likes of New Zealand, Australia and England. 

FIJI_SA_032“ (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Craig Boyd

Super Rugby – which will get underway again in February with the Hurricanes currently priced at 17/4 to retain their title with bet365  and other bookmakers - is full of Pacific Island players, many of whom now represent either Australia or New Zealand. Previously made up of teams from those two Antipodean counties as well as South Africa, over the past 12 months we’ve seen Argentina and Japan both represented in the competition following the integration of the Jaguares and the Sunwolves, respectively. 

The introduction of the two franchises hasn’t only gone some way to helping Argentina and Japan offer a realistic alternative for their best players, it’s also brought something new to Super Rugby, playing a part in breathing new life into the tournament. It’s hard to imagine how that wouldn’t be the case if a Fijian franchise were to be next. Anyone who has seen Fiji play either sevens or 15-a-side rugby will know just how expressive and attractive a style the islanders play the game with, and it would be fascinating to see just how much of a benefit having a top-class team in Fiji would have on the national squad.