16 Nov 2016

Plans for a Super Rugby team in Fiji

5:51 am on 16 November 2016

Plans to establish a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji to stop top players leaving the Pacific Islands are well advanced and have over 35 million dollars in backing.

Fiji prop Manasa Saulo (centre).

Fiji prop Manasa Saulo (centre). Photo: Photosport

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the team would be based in a 20,000-seater stadium close to Fiji's airport with four large international companies and two major kit manufacturers prepared to fund the project, the paper said.

About 19 percent of the world's professional rugby players are originally from the Pacific Islands but many represent world champions New Zealand, Australia, France and England after qualifying under residency rules.

"I believe the impact of this plan would see Fiji win the World Cup one day," said Ben Ryan, the English coach who led his adopted country to the Olympic sevens gold medal this year.

"We have shown in sevens what we can do and if you just look at the impact the Fiji players are having on the tier one countries, they are their star players in New Zealand, Australia, England and France."

Ryan said in future it was vital to keep the top players in the Pacific Islands.

"It is not pie in the sky," he added. "Pick a world XV from the players that are playing outside Fiji and Samoa in the other international teams and you would get a team that is there or thereabouts."

Some of the world's largest companies with links to the Pacific Islands are supporting the plan, giving the potential new franchise more money than any other Super Rugby team.

"We could make them the best club side in the world. Imagine the talent we have got in France? They would all be on the first flight back," Ryan said.

He has discussed the proposals with World Rugby which has set up a working group to review residency rules.

Fijian-born back-row forward Nathan Hughes made his England debut last weekend and could start against his home country on Saturday.

Ryan believes a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji and the possibility of another one in Tonga would have more impact on the player exodus than extending residency qualifications from three to five years.

"Ever since I went to the island I've been thinking about how we get Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to be consistent World Cup quarter-finalists and knocking on the doors of the semi-finals," he said.

"The number one thing is to have a Super Rugby franchise. It is the simplest way of doing it. It sends the strongest message and would reap the quickest results."