Up to 50 Pacific Island based players could earn professional contracts as part of the Global Rapid Rugby competition, providing the region with a welcome boost after a push for a Super Rugby franchise came up short.
The brainchild of billionaire Western Force owner Andrew Forrest, eight teams are expected to take part in the inaugural season in 2019, including entries representing Fiji and Samoa.
The competition evolved from a series of exhibition matches hosted by the Force this year, including against Fiji A, Tonga A and Samoa A, following their axing from Super Rugby.
With little more than two months until the proposed launch, Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke admitted there was still a lot of uncertainty.
“I know there’s a lot of nervousness around Global Rapid Rugby but we’ve been working with them and also our fellow associations, New Zealand Rugby Players Association and RUPA in Australia around making sure we work alongside Rapid Rugby so that it can happen and it works well,” he said.
“This means possibly we could be talking 30/40/50 extra professional contracts for on-island based Pacific Island players so my job is to work as hard as we can to make that happen.
“At the moment we’ve got Fiji included in there and it looks like we’re going to have a lot more presence – I know it hasn’t been confirmed officially but that’s exciting.”
The Fiji Rugby Union declined to comment on their involvement with Rapid Rugby, saying negotiations were still under way and the competition was very much still in strategic planning.
It’s understood the Samoan bid is working alongside Richard Fale, who was the face of a Hawaii-based consortium wanting to join Super Rugby, and would likely play some of their home matches in Honolulu.
Samoa Rugby Union CEO Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i said the national body will make an official statement when the details of SRU involvement is formalised with the intended franchise.
Aayden Clarke said one in six players across professional rugby competitions are of Pacific island descent and, despite hopes for a Pacific Island Super Rugby franchise falling flat, the introduction of Rapid Rugby could prove to be a welcome silver lining for the region.
“Any time that there’s more opportunity for players to spread their wings and put their best foot forward and show the world what they can offer – especially the current on-island players and the guys who have yet to secure Super Rugby or European contracts – then that’s fantastic,” he said.
“I know there’s a lot of disappointment out there at the moment around Super Rugby and Pacific Island teams being involved with that but quite possibly the public should have a look over their shoulder at this thing called Rapid Rugby and see how that evolves.”
Despite a number of experimental law changes, including a nine point ‘power try’ for attacks launched from inside the scoring team’s own 22 and reducing games to 70 minutes in duration, Global Rapid Rugby was endorsed by World Rugby last month and competition officials have been in regular communication with the Rugby Australia.
Global Rapid Rugby’s inaugural champions will earn a prize purse of $AU1 million.