Two Pacific Island teams will be included in a new 12-team Super Rugby competition in 2022.
Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua have been issued licenses to take part in the new tournament, which could have a major impact on the game in the Pacific Islands.
While both teams still need to get final clearance on their financial status, their inclusion is arguably the biggest development in southern hemisphere rugby since the game turned professional, giving a viable option to players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to turn professional in their own country, rather than being signed by New Zealand, Australian or European sides.
Their financial planning will be helped by a $2.16m annual package from World Rugby to offset their costs.
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Mark Robinson says they hope to sign off on the teams' participation by the end of June.
"We have confidence that Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will be able to meet the conditions of the license, which includes final sign off on a sustainable business plan by 30 June.
This is a great day for rugby as a whole!!. Knowing the next generation of talent coming from the islands don’t have to look overseas “1st”to play professional rugby. Congratulations and thank you to all involved. #Vinaka #malopAupito #faafetai 🇼🇸 🇫🇯 🇹🇴 ❤️ pic.twitter.com/2GJlDqsgrj
— nemzy (@nemani_nadolo) April 14, 2021
Meanwhile, the Manu Samoa and All Blacks legend Michael Jones - who is currently a board member of New Zealand Rugby - says the inclusion of the teams is the culmination of a long process.
"We are now on the cusp of realising a long-held desire to include Pasifika in our professional game and the opportunity to embrace all that comes with that.
"With the approval of licenses, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua can now forge ahead with the final stages of their business plans and crucially start to lock in their playing and coaching rosters for next season."
The two new franchises will join the five teams from each of New Zealand and Australia to form a 12-team Super Rugby competition.
Fijian Drua competed in the Australian NRC between 2017 and 2019, winning the competition in 2018, while Moana Pasifika was a concept team formed in 2020 to play a one-off game against the Maori All Blacks.
The Moana Pasifika side was comprised of players from Fijian, Tongan and Samoan descent who were based in New Zealand, and were captained by future Leinster tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa.
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