As if the Pacific Islands didn’t have it hard enough as it already is, Super Rugby decided to completely overlook them during their expansion talks last year.
Now there was obviously a good reason for the introduction of an Argentinian based franchise (Los Jaguares)! The Pumas had joined the Rugby Championship and were beginning to challenge the top sides on a regular basis, it therefore made sense to ensure Argentina had a presence in a professional league.
Equally, although somewhat more contentious, the introduction of the Japanese side the Sunwolves made sense as not only had the Brave Blossoms performed admirably during last years Rugby World Cup, but the Japanese market represents a huge expansion opportunity for rugby, and ensures plenty of funds being piled into SANZAAR’s coffers.
Serious questions however must be raised over the re-introduction of the Kings into the Super Rugby competition, thereby ensuring South Africa had six franchises in the competition. Whilst the South Africans provide huge swathes of the sponsorship deals in rugby, there is absolutely zero benefit beyond appeasing the SARU to having the Kings in Super Rugby.
South Africa would struggle to field five truly competitive Super Rugby sides given the deluge of players, including many current internationals, who had moved to Europe in recent seasons. This makes it even more bizarre that they would attempt to stretch their finite playing resources even more thinly. You only have to have a quick scan of the Kings squad to see that there are very few, if any recognisable names in the side.
Results so far back up this assertion given that the Kings remain the only side in the competition without a point to their name, whilst they have conceded an average of 41 points per game so far. Even worse was the fact that before the season had even kicked off, the team were plagued by off field issues with players having not been paid, and serious questions being asked whether they can function as a full time professional side.
Clearly, there is no way the Kings should be involved in the Super Rugby competition. Their inclusion does nothing to enhance the competition, nor encourage the spread of rugby. In fact, the only clear reason they are involved at all is because of internal politics within SANZAAR. However, whilst this approach to the competition remains, other sides will continue to be robbed of the opportunity to kick on in the professional era.
All this begs the question as to why a Pacific Island team hasn’t been at least seriously considered. Yes, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa may not have the financial clout of the other unions involved, however it’s not like Super Rugby is struggling financially. And what they may lack in funding, they would more than make up for in the quality of player being produced from the islands.
International sides around the world are benefiting from the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Waisake Naholo, whilst the World Cups would be much poorer without the inclusion of the Pacific Island sides. Therefore, giving them a platform through which they can develop players at club level would potentially be hugely beneficial for everyone.
Youngsters on the islands would have more incentive to take rugby more seriously knowing that there was the possibility of joining the Super Rugby side. The international sides would also benefit as it ensures that they can keep more of their players at home and develop them in a similar way to Argentina are doing at present. Making sides like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa more competitive may not seem beneficial to tier one nations at present, but the reality is that the more teams that can potentially win the World Cup, the more interest the tournament will generate.
Neutrals love nothing more than a good underdog story, and seeing a side like Fiji battle their way to the Rugby World Cup knockout stages could have a huge impact globally. You only have to look at the press coverage Japan received after their shock defeat of South Africa last year. This kind of success would again encourage more youngsters into the sport from the islands and increase the playing pool of potentially world class stars.