Fiji’s hopes of Super Rugby inclusion are fading fast as World League negotiations delay an agreement on the future of Super Rugby.
Fairfax Media can reveal the Fiji Rugby Union in June submitted a bid to join the southern hemisphere’s professional rugby competition but have all but given up hope of success after SANZAAR upped its financial demands on prospective entrants.
The figure, understood to be somewhere in the vicinity of $14 million to $17 million, has almost certainly put a national union-run franchise beyond the reach of Fiji and Samoa, the most realistic of candidates in the Pacific Islands.
The talent-rich region’s hopes now appear to rest on the legitimacy of a Hawaiian-based consortium led by Richard Fale, a businessman and politician who missed out on New Zealand NRL team the Warriors earlier this year.
In any case the explosion on to the global rugby landscape of the World League concept looks set to delay into the new year talks on Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.
SANZAAR – the partnership between South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – had hoped to agree on a format at their upcoming ExCo meeting in November but Fairfax Media understands that World League will take priority and push Super Rugby negotiations back into early 2019.
The 12-team concept, which would see the top six nations from the northern and southern hemispheres compete in an annual competition in non-World Cup years, was endorsed by World Rugby after Executive Committee meetings in Sydney last month. Under current rankings the competition would include Fiji, Tonga and Japan in the 12, pitting tier two nations against tier one nations in regular competition for the first time.
World League advocates now hope to put the proposal in front of broadcasters in time for the next round of World Rugby meetings in November. The opportunity to do that may come at the global Sportel sports broadcasting trade show in Monaco next week. All of the SANZAAR partners will be in attendance.
It is understood the World League concept is well supported by the SANZAAR nations and France, who see it as an opportunity to dramatically grow broadcast revenue for all nations. It is believed to have the in-principle backing of England, Wales and Scotland, with Ireland’s intentions not clear.
Other sources tell Fairfax Media that the sticking point will be the carve-up of that money. The SANZAAR nations represent about 30 per cent of the global broadcast revenue but whether or not the home unions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be able to agree with the southern hemisphere on a distribution model may only become clear in November.
If the concept falls over, it will be back to the drawing board on Super Rugby. But if World League becomes a reality it will radically alter the conversations around both the ailing 15-team competition and its Test sister, the Rugby Championship, with less pressure on all parties to find an awkward compromise in an increasingly mismatched partnership.
As it stands, sources tell Fairfax Media that SANZAAR’s appetite for expansion has cooled substantially and is contingent on new and current entrants – including current Japanese team the Sunwolves – bringing revenue into the partnership.
That sentiment does not bode well for Fiji, which has the stadium to host a team but lacks the commercial and broadcast potential to add value to the Super Rugby broadcast deal. The FRU now look likely to seriously entertain an approach from Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s World Series Rugby, which is desperately hunting its first ‘domino’ in a bid to launch an eight-team competition by next March.
A Hawaii-based Pacific team, like the one being proposed by Fale, may be attractive if they were to play some matches in the United States. A well-timed New Zealand government report, released around the same time the FRU submitted its bid to SANZAAR, found that a large Pacific Islands expatriate population on the US west coast made that area an obvious place to stage some fixtures. The report did, however, recommend it be based in Fiji, Samoa or Tonga.