Plans are reportedly in motion to install a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji in an attempt to stem the flood of players from the Pacific Islands to the riches on offer overseas.
The new team is set to receive the backing of a host of global companies and kit manufacturers, and would be based in a new 20,000-seat stadium, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The plan is yet to be endorsed by Super Rugby but Ben Ryan, the Briton who led Fiji to sevens gold at the Rio Olympics, is leading the charge to establish the team by 2018.
“I believe the impact of this plan would see Fiji win the World Cup one day,” Ryan said. “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.
“That generation has gone but the future players are there and we have to make sure they stay on the island and they get the right resource, the right coaching and the fundamentals around it, like we did with the sevens, so there is no reason why we can’t dominate.”
The Pacific Islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa have long seen homegrown talent leave their shores since rugby turned professional in 1995, with players taking lucrative contracts in Super Rugby and European competitions.
World Rugby’s residency rule, which allows those without an international cap to play for a country after three years of living there, means many of the most talented Pacific Islanders end up playing for the biggest tier one nations rather than their countries of birth.
England’s Nathan Hughes is a prime example of this. The Wasps No. 8 was born in Fiji but turned down the chance to play for them at last year’s World Cup and could even line up against them in Eddie Jones’ pack at Twickenham on Saturday.
“If you are a young Fijian who wants to play rugby professionally as a career, you can’t stay in Fiji,” Ryan said. “World Rugby are looking to change the residency law from three to five years, but I don’t think that will work because players will just go younger.
“For me, it comes back to giving us an opportunity on the island with a franchise. Super Rugby could own a part of it and it would keep everyone on the island and we could build academies, which would generate a pathway for players and coaches.
“Ever since I went to the island, I have been thinking about how we get Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to be consistent World Cup quarterfinalists and knocking on the doors of the semifinals. The number one thing is to have a Super Rugby franchise.”
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Report: Ryan plots Super Rugby franchise to halt Fiji drain
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