A significant development on the Super Rugby scene as World Rugby confirms that £1.2m (NZ$2.3 million) could be made available annually to fund two Pacific Island teams in the competition.
If the deal is confirmed, Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika will participate in Super Rugby from 2022.
Detailed financial, performance and commercial feasibility studies have been conducted by New Zealand Rugby and the relevant franchises and the funding will be conditional on the franchises satisfying certain financial criteria.
“The game-changing potential of the executive committee’s decision to support Pacific Island Super Rugby franchises should not be underestimated. From a strategic perspective, it provides the best-possible platform and pathway for the Islands to reach their potential,” World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said in a statement.
“On a human level, this is absolutely the right thing to do. It is great for the players, allowing them to make the choice for the first time to be part of a local professional team at the top level of elite club rugby.
“While recognising that there are still steps to complete, I would like to thank everyone involved, including the unions as well as New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, for their full commitment to this project which is great for rugby.”
Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor has described the development as a “dream come true” for Pacific Island rugby.
“We have been urging for such an opportunity, and it is almost in our grip,” he said.
“This is the missing piece to our rugby puzzle in the Pacific Islands and more importantly to Fiji rugby. Being included in Super Rugby completes our elite pathway and will allow our best players to have the opportunity to play professional rugby right here at home.
“We are not over the line yet. However, we are working very hard to meet all the requirements set by NZR, including strict financial diligence requirements by the end of March to satisfy the NZR board that we will be able to field a strong team on the field and a sustainable and profitable franchise.”