Fijian Super Rugby side attracting overseas stars
SPOTLIGHT: Fiji’s gold medal chasing Olympic Games Sevens players and internationals who have represented other nations are set to join the Fijian Drua squad being assembled to take part in a planned new professional competition next year that will transform rugby in the Pacific Islands and help end the drain of talent to Europe, USA and Japan.
That is the belief of Fiji Rugby Chief Executive John O’Connor who said having a Super Rugby franchise on home soil will change the landscape of rugby in Fiji forever.
Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua have been granted conditional licences two join NZR’s existing five Super Rugby Aotearoa franchises and Rugby Australia’s five Super Rugby AU teams in a new tournament being planned for 2022. The Fijian Drua will play a minimum of five matches in Fiji, expected to be shared across venues in Suva and in the West.
The FRU have confirmed it has also been contacted by a number of Fijian players who have represented other countries but want to come back and represent the Fijian Drua.
Simon Raiwalui, FRU high-performance manager and former Flying Fijians captain, said players in the 37-member Fijian Drua squad, which would be announced in June, would include some Fijian players playing overseas, some former internationals with Fijian heritage and local-based players. Crucially, the Sevens players, currently preparing the defence of their Rio gold medal at the Tokyo Games will also have the chance to remain at home rather than move abroad to earn money from their rugby talents.
O’Connor told RNZ: “They’ve indicated now that they would like to play for Sevens and then switch over [to the Fijian Drua], so it’s already starting. Players we would have lost after the Olympics now have the opportunity to stay back and switch to XVs. Every kid now who wakes up has a new dream: to be part of the Fijian Drua and to play professional rugby at home and not leave their families and go to a different environment.
“It’s not only a dream for our players, it’s a dream for the match officials, coaches and so-forth – it’s a total pathway for us which has been missing for long.”
O’Connor said the announcement was timely, with Fiji’s domestic provincial competition kicking off last weekend.
“We’ve already identified talents that we will sign locally and most of them are already Flying Fijians and playing domestically, locally. Now we will engage other players. Our early discussions they were all around having about 16 overseas-based players and 16 local-based players.”
By Chris Jones, @Rugbypass