Fiji racing to prove team viable for Super Rugby in 2022

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Pool D - Wales v Fiji - Oita Stadium, Oita, Japan - October 9, 2019 Wales' Josh Adams scores their third try REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Fiji are looking to submit documentation to New Zealand Rugby within days that will show the viability of adding a team to Super Rugby in 2022, the nation's rugby boss John O'Connor said on Friday.

World Rugby have pledged funding to help Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, a second Pacific islands team comprised of Tonga and Samoan players, join Super Rugby, subject to NZR's sign-off.

"We’re working hard to make sure we can show that we can meet the requirements by the end of the month," Fiji Rugby Union Chief Executive O'Connor told Reuters.

"Then it will be decided if we can have a license and then we can start to sign players and everything.

"We don’t need to have sponsorship in place but we do need to illustrate that there will be private investment in the ownership of the team.

"We are currently in the process of tidying some things up."

O'Connor said the bid had attracted interest from local Fijian companies and negotiations were in train with a private investor but he declined to provide details, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Fijian Drua compete in Australia's lower-tier National Rugby Championship and won the title in 2018.

Rugby powers Australia and New Zealand have long mulled adding Pacific teams to Super Rugby but doubts about the financial viability stalled momentum.

O'Connor said NZR and World Rugby had been hugely supportive but the team needed to show it could raise between NZ$8 million and NZ$10 million ($6.97 million) to meet ongoing costs.

The NZR requirements were "almost comparable" to those put on New Zealand's five provincial teams in the domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, he added.

Unlike Moana Pasifika, which is expected to be based in New Zealand due to cost concerns, Fiji's team would be based in the Pacific island nation and play home games there if the COVID-19 situation allowed international travel.

O'Connor said a consultant had been hired to gauge corporate opportunities for the team in Australia and New Zealand, which have sizeable Fijian communities.

"We will have a report on that next week, but yes, we have people in Australia and New Zealand helping us,” he said.

If granted a Super Rugby license, Fiji will have to lure players home from richer rugby markets in Europe and the southern hemisphere if they are be competitive.

O'Connor said news about the team had already stoked interest among them.

"Most of the players cannot wait for the opportunity," he said.

"Most of them are interested in coming back but many obviously have contracts that they need to fulfil."

Fiji has qualified for every Rugby World Cup since 1999 but has not been able to reach the knockout rounds since making the quarter-finals at the 2007 tournament in France.

O'Connor said having a team of top Fijian players competing regularly in Super Rugby could be a "game-changer" in terms of preparing for the 2023 World Cup in France and beyond.

"It would also be good for Super Rugby -- to have a team that is not really defensive-focused and prepared to play," he said.

($1 = 1.4323 New Zealand dollars)

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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