The Oceania Rugby U20s Challenge – Auckland Igniting a new era of Pacific Rugby talent

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Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika are delighted to announce a strategic partnership aimed at launching a new age-grade competition designed to reinvigorate U20s pathway programmes across the Pacific region.

The Oceania Rugby U20s Challenge will serve as a viable competition pathway opportunity for age-grade players across the Pacific to advance into the elite professional environment of Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.

In 2024, the competition will feature Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, alongside a Moana Pasifika invitational U20s team. The partnership vision is intended to include all other Pacific Unions with Under 19/20 age-grade programs, such as Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and the French Polynesian territories in an inclusive approach to also provide these unions with an exciting pathway opportunity.

The new competition will also serve as a qualifier for Samoa and Tonga for the 2024 World Rugby U20s Trophy to be played in Scotland from 2-17 July. The winner between the two Pacific foes in round two will advance as Oceania’s representative to this key event.

Moana Pasifika, renowned for its commitment to promoting and celebrating Pacific culture, will proudly host the tournament at North Harbour in Auckland. The matches will take place on Tuesday, 27 February, with the second round starting on Saturday, 2 March, culminating with the final round on Wednesday, 6 March.

The competition not only highlights the immense talent and passion for rugby in the Oceania region but also provides a platform for young players to shine on an international stage. The Oceania Rugby Challenge aims to foster growth, development, and camaraderie among the participating nations while also promoting the sport of rugby in the region.

General Manager of Oceania Rugby, Frank Puletua said: “This unique blend of athleticism, creativity, and cultural pride promises to showcase our region’s top rugby talent in a traditional hub for Pasifika communities, the city of Auckland. Oceania Rugby is proud to support the development and growth of our young athletes, and we look forward to seeing more young men and women graduate into elite competition through the U20’s programme”

CEO of Moana Pasifika, Pelenato Sakalia said: “It’s an exciting opportunity for our youth. It is a privilege for us to serve our Pacific nations. This is an opportunity to accelerate our pathways programs. It’s also an opportunity to unify Moana Pasifika with community rugby and the home nations U20 programs. We’re focused on running a successful competition.”

Elite Pathways & Performance Manager of Fiji Rugby, Bill Gadolo said: “The Fijian pathway focuses on developing our age-grade talent for the modern game, including travel exposure, adaptability, and short turnaround tournaments. We welcome Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika for taking the initiative to engage Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Moana Pasifika. The team’s success against the three teams in Auckland is a measure of their readiness for the Aotearoa Super Competition U20s competition and, importantly, the World Rugby U20s Championship. The preparation began in December last year, and the squad was selected in early January. The Fijian Drua’s inclusion and the Fiji Under 20s’ spot in the World Rugby U20s Championship have attracted many players of Fijian descent worldwide.”

CEO of Lakapi Samoa, Vincent Fepuleai said: “The Oceania Rugby U20s Challenge is a great initiative, and I would like to acknowledge Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika for making this happen. It offers young players in our development program both competition and a pathway to a contract with Moana Pasifika. This is a crucial step in nurturing our local talent, and we are really excited about these opportunities. Our HP Coaches have organised trials, with over a hundred local players participating, and we are excited about the selected talent to lead Samoan rugby into the future.”

Interim CEO of Tonga Rugby Union, Aisea Aholelei said: “Tonga Rugby Union is ecstatic that teams like Fiji, Samoa, and Moana Pasifika will be participating in this competition. This tournament solidifies our player pathways and motivates our local talent to don the Junior Ikale Tahi jersey. Knowing that they’ll be playing against the best in the Pacific and gaining vital international experience to improve their game. The players performances will indicate our development program international standing, highlighting the requirements to qualify for the top nations and tournaments. Our main objective is to identify the best development systems to help our talents reach their full potential, and this tournament will greatly benefit our future growth plans and programmes.”

Pathways Manager of Moana Pasifika, Leasiosiofaasisina Kevin Senio said: “This will be a massive boost for the future of rugby. This is about creating a genuine pathway and providing the stage for our up-and-coming Pasifika talent to be seen.2

Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika extend a warm invitation to rugby fans from around the world to witness this historic tournament and support their favourite teams. With a coveted spot at the 2024 World Rugby U20s Trophy up for grabs, the stakes are high, and the action promises to be nothing short of extraordinary.

SOURCE: OCEANIA RUGBY/PACNEWS