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Fiji Rugby Union chief executive officer John O’Connor has revealed contingency plans are in place to base the Fijian Drua in New Zealand if COVID-19 continues to hamper international travel.
The Drua are scheduled to join the 2022 Super Rugby competition in a move that is aimed at keeping local talent in the Islands while also giving overseas players the chance to return home to boost playing numbers and top-flight rugby experience.
O’Connor told SunSport that the ongoing impact of the pandemic may force the Drua to base themselves in New Zealand during their first season in the competition, prompting the contingency planning. The FRU is currently preparing to announce the appointment of a head coach and players over the coming weeks and months, with plans for the new team to begin pre-season training in October.
O’Connor said: “The opportunity was too great to be determined by the opening of a (travel) bubble. If we are required to move and relocate to New Zealand for the first year or something then that’s something that we’ve assured New Zealand Rugby that we are willing to do.
“We just want to be competitive the first year and that’s one of the requirements by New Zealand Rugby that we need to be competitive, and with the planning that’s going on and the appointment of the coach and the players. It’s good to be in the competition, we will prepare well and anything is possible after that.”
Fiji head coach Vern Cotter has enthusiastically greeted the news that the Drua will compete against five New Zealand teams, five Australian teams and Moana Pasifika but warned the level of rugby will be demanding.
“This is great news for Fijian Rugby and it is wonderful that the efforts over the years from players and management have paid off to have Fiji rugby included in an elite competition,” said Cotter.“Watching both New Zealand and Australian Super teams we know we will need to develop all possible structures and attitudes to win games and add value.”
Meanwhile, Fiji are looking to submit documentation to New Zealand Rugby (NZR) within days to show the viability of adding a team to Super Rugby in 2022.
“We’re working hard to make sure we can show that we can meet the requirements by the end of the month,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said NZR and World Rugby had been hugely supportive but the team needed to show it could raise between NZ$8 million (AUD$7.3 million) and NZ$10 million (AUD$9.2 million) to meet ongoing costs.
Unlike Moana Pasifika, which is expected to be based in New Zealand due to cost concerns, Fiji’s team would be based in the Pacific island nation and play home games there if the COVID-19 situation at the time allows international travel.
If granted a Super Rugby license, Fiji will have to lure players home from richer rugby markets in Europe and the southern hemisphere if they are be competitive.
O’Connor said news about the team had already stoked interest among them.
“Most of the players cannot wait for the opportunity,” he said.
“Most of them are interested in coming back but many obviously have contracts that they need to fulfil.”
Fiji has qualified for every Rugby World Cup since 1999 but has not been able to reach the knockout rounds since making the quarter-finals at the 2007 tournament in France.
O’Connor said having a team of top Fijian players competing regularly in Super Rugby could be a “game-changer” in terms of preparing for the 2023 World Cup in France and beyond.
“It would also be good for Super Rugby – to have a team that is not really defensive-focused and prepared to play,” he said.
SOURCE: RUGBY PASS/REUTERS/PACNEWS
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