FIJIAN DRUA TO BE BASED IN AUSTRALIA NEXT YEAR

The Fijian Drua will be based in Australia for its inaugural season in Super Rugby. The Drua were this week confirmed as part of an expanded 12 team competition called 'Super Rugby Pacific', alongside Moana Pasifika and five teams each from New Zealand and Australia.

  • Fijian Drua to be based in Australia next year article image

The Fijian Drua will be based in Australia for its inaugural season in Super Rugby.

The Drua were this week confirmed as part of an expanded 12 team competition called 'Super Rugby Pacific', alongside Moana Pasifika and five teams each from New Zealand and Australia.

But the Fijian team is unable to play on home soil in 2022 because of the country's ongoing Covid-19 situation and closed international borders.

Fiji Rugby Chairman Conway Beg said the decision to base the team in Australia next year was to ensure the Drua's first season in Super Rugby was as disruption-free as possible.

The Fijian Drua previously competed in the Australian NRC. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

"We need to give our team every opportunity for success, and the uncertainty around restriction-free travel between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand as early as February 2022 due to Covid-19 was just too great a risk," he said.

"It will most definitely be a sacrifice for our players, coaching staff and team management to be away from Fiji for the duration of the season, similar to the sacrifices by other Fijian teams to participate and succeed in other competitions.

"But everyone realises the massive opportunity Super Rugby Pacific presents for our players and for the future of our 15s programme."

Fiji Rugby Union CEO John O'Connor shakes hands with new FRU Chairman Conway Beg.

Fiji Rugby CEO John O'Connor and Chairman Conway Beg. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

Fiji Rugby's General Manager of Commerical, Brian Thorburn, has been appointed Interim CEO of the Drua. The Australian-based sports administrator said they were considering a number of locations in Queensland to call their temporary home.

"Queensland as a state has a lot of attractions, climatically for our team in particular, but it's also got fantastic venues and facilities," he said.

"Whether that's in Townsville, the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast for example we haven't settled on but we're blessed in Australia with a number of great alternatives and we will turn our minds to that and make announcements in the next several weeks."

Conway Beg said the inclusion of the Drua and Moana Pasifika "is the shot in the arm that Pacific Rugby needed" and the result of many months of hard work.

"This is the culmination of a dream long-held by Fiji Rugby Union and Fijian rugby fans alike.

"It's a transformational moment for our game, providing the opportunity to bring players home over time and to keep our best players from going overseas."

The Fijian have never beaten grand final opponents Queensland Country.

Flying Fijians halfback Frank Lomani previously played for the Drua and is off contract. Photo: Fiji Rugby

Fiji Rugby have already identified a potential 38-man squad for next season, which includes Flying Fijians internationals, Fiji sevens stars and national age grade representatives.

The FRU's General Manager of High Performance, Simon Raiwalui, is leading the Drua's player recruitment and said a number of players have already signed contracts.

"We're looking at talent onshore and offshore, primarily based in the Southern Hemisphere. We've made contact with and made a number of quality signings...which will probably be announced next week, so we're well in the works. We've offered contracts out to over 20 plus players players where I'm in negotiations."

Former Fiji captain and FRU's general manager of high performance, Simon Raiwalui, at the launch of the new academy.

Simon Raiwalui. Photo: Facebook / Fiji Rugby

The former Flying Fijians captain, who has held coaching roles with Stade Francais, Racing 92 and the Wallabies, said the Drua is not trying to compete with high-end European salaries, and will be primarily a pathway for young Fijian players.

"The Drua is obviously going to be the missing link in our pathways between our national age group teams and the Flying Fijians that we've been missing," he said.

"Traditionally, after our age group teams, such as the Under-20s and the Warriors, our players have had to search for opportunities offshore. The Drua is not only going to provide opportunities to our players but is also going to provide opportunities to our staff, and that's a very important part of our evolution as well."

Fiji have now won back to back gold medals in rugby sevens.

Some of Fiji's Olympic sevens stars are expected to sign for the Drua. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Brian Thorburn said it will cost $12-13 million Fijian to operate the Drua franchise in a normal season.

The move to Australia will add another one or two million dollars in expenses, but he was adamant the team had more than enough financial support.

"We've got multiple revenue streams in the short term from the (Fiji) government, from the Australian DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), from New Zealand Rugby, from World Rugby," he said.

"We've got already committed sponsorships, we've got gate revenues in Australia, we will seek and receive some rights fees for taking games to particular regions or states.

"So the outlook for our financials is that we will not lose money in our first year but equally we won't make a lot of money, but thereafter the financial forecasts are strong."

 

Super Rugby Pacific will kick off on February 18 with an eight-team playoff series culminating in a final in June.

Conway Beg said the Drua have high hopes for their debut campaign.

"Our aim is to make the finals in our first year and who knows how far we will go - we will be aiming for the top," he said.

"The brand of rugby we will bring to the competition will be fast and exciting."

The Fijian Drua is in the process of being established as a separate entity from Fiji Rugby, and will have its own Board of Directors, management, and staff.

Resource: RNZ 

 

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