Rugby-Australia boss tips 'hard transition' for Pasifika teams in Super Rugby

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand are hopeful the addition of Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika to Super Rugby will boost the game in the Pacific region but the southern hemisphere powers must be convinced of the teams' viability within two years.

The expansion sides debut in the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific competition next week and can expect a baptism of fire against experienced Australian and New Zealand opponents.

With much invested in their inclusion, Drua and Moana Pasifika will need to become competitive quickly to survive in the competition over the long haul.

"We’ve committed, both New Zealand and RA (Rugby Australia), to the next two years and it’s really just that -- to assess and allow the tournament to settle and establish," RA boss Andy Marinos told reporters on a call.

"We know they play a very flamboyant and interesting style so I think they’re going to bring a point of difference.

"In saying that, it’s going to be a hard transition as we’ve seen in the previous iterations of Super Rugby when new teams came in.

"It’s just adjusting to not only the pace but the intensity."

Early signs have been promising.

Drua, who previously played in Australia's National Rugby Championship, snatched a 28-26 win over the Melbourne Rebels in their first and only trial match in Sydney on Thursday.

They will play 2014 Super Rugby champions New South Wales Waratahs in their season-opener next week.

Expansion sides have struggled to maintain a foothold in Super Rugby, which started as a 12-team competition between New Zealand, Australian and South African outfits in 1996.

The Perth-based Western Force, who joined in 2006, were cut in 2017 along with two South Africa teams due to cost concerns, though the Force have since re-joined.

The Tokyo-based Sunwolves pulled out in 2020 due to financial reasons after five seasons.

The Jaguares, the first Argentine side in Super Rugby who joined in 2016, also exited in 2020 when travel curbs due to the COVID-19 pandemic made their participation untenable.

The new teams may start full of energy but are likely to battle fatigue and homesickness as the season wears on.

Drua will be based in Australia in their first season rather than Fiji due to travel complications caused by COVID-19.

Moana Pasifika, made up of players from various Pacific nations, are based in New Zealand.

If the teams can stick it out, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa's national sides, who have struggled at recent World Cups, may stand to benefit from their players competing regularly together in Super Rugby, rather than being spread more widely in distant markets.

"More regular, high-quality rugby is going to help improve those national team performances," said Marinos.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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