Multiple publications have reported that the 2022 Super Rugby season could feature two Pacific Island teams: Moana Pacifika, based in Auckland, and a Fijian side participating in what would be a new Pacific Super 12.
This has a real potential for positive change for rugby players and the game itself in this region. The Oceans Apart documentary series details how young Pacific Islander players would benefit greatly in terms of mental well-being and life as professional athletes from being in a supportive, culturally aware environment.
For these teams to succeed as being viable pathways for a pro rugby career, they require financial security. Super Rugby is a great competition and possibly the best proving ground for potential international players, but it is not a revenue-building powerhouse.
Conventional wisdom states that most of the money is generated by the national teams. Adding the Pacific Islands to regular international competition is the best chance for them to move from the second tier to the top level, securing a future for themselves both on and off the field.
I have thought of many ways to include the Pacific into international competition, my favourite being a short Super 12 competition followed by a Pacific Six Nations. I will present the positives and limitations of this concept and let me know what I missed, what you liked, how I am wrong and how you would integrate the Pacific into Test rugby.
A short Super 12 competition followed by a Pacific Six Nations would use the traditional Super 12 model: each team playing each other once in a round-robin format, resulting in eleven regular-season matches and two weeks of finals, leaving room for about five or six games prior to the July Test season.
Following the Super 12 season, an international competition would take place between Japan, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. Each team would play the rest of the pack once, for a total of five games and the Australia versus New Zealand clash would double as the first Bledisloe test.
This works well with the Japanese and Super 12 seasons. The Top League runs from August to January; the Pacific Six Nations would run from May to June. There should be enough Pacific Island players in the Super 12 and the Top League to fill the squads.
There are many other potential benefits to all parties if the season is structured this way. There is a known and fierce rivalry that exists between the Pacific Island nations that will engage rugby fans from all nations. Japan will be able to capitalise on the popularity of the 2019 World Cup by hosting either Australia or New Zealand every year, engaging a potentially large supporter base.
This potential fan-base, along with desirable matches and top-quality teams in good time zones, has the potential to create the kind of wealth required to sustain rugby in the region.
This competition would also be good for Australia and New Zealand as they could stage games in stadiums that don’t often see Test match rugby. Australian non-Test players could spend more time in club rugby, resulting in more fan interest and improved on-field performances, which is important if Australia are looking at creating a national club championship.
The Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand could start earlier, resulting in either a less demanding schedule, or an expansion to a full 14-team round robin. Also for Australian and Kiwi fans, this format creates the opportunity to watch your team win the treble – Pacific Six nations, Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.
Finally, a real positive for fans in this region would be the complex Super Rugby format being replaced by a simple calendar: Super 12, Pacific Six nations, July Tests, Rugby Championship and November Test series.
Just as there are positives, there are also some limitations: initial results between tier two and tier one teams could be lopsided, although over time tier two sides could improve if they continue to have access to their best players. There’s the issue of potential overexposure of Test teams: the All Blacks and the Wallabies already play at least twelve Test matches per season, usually more. Another five Tests may well result in top-tier international clashes feeling less special, if this hasn’t happened already.
A Pacific Six Nations wouldn’t impact our SANZAAR partners in any way, which is important, because as South Africa moves north or restarts the Currie Cup and Argentina are involved in the SLAR with their best players plying their trade overseas, we should not be placing any extra burden on them.
If, however, they want to participate and involve Japan and the Pacific in the Rugby Championship there would be ways of making that work, however, I would imagine they would probably prefer the stability of an unchanged Rugby Championship.
Adding Pacific teams to the current ten Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby teams would be a great start to that new competition. However, to get the best results for everyone, they have to be added to the international season. Involving the Pacific Nations will allow them to take control of their own future on and off the field. Strengthening their sides will create more competitive opposition for the rest of the world.
I have presented just one option as to how this could be done. There are obviously countless more.
Roarers, I look forward to reading your opinions.