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Super Rugby expansion likely to exclude Islands

Chiefs Hooker Mahonri would love to lead a Pacific Islands Super Rugby team

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Article Published: Sunday 27 January 2013|

Any expansion of Super Rugby in the near future is likely to leave the Pacific Islands out in the cold in favour of the United States or Canada.

SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters stated earlier this month that they are looking at United States and Canada after they were included in the Pacific Nations Cup.

A team from Asia and Argentina are also being considered while South Africa already have an extra team ready to join in.

The geographical conference system used in Super Rugby dictates that each conference must have an equal number of teams so the next expansion is unlikely to be for one team and is more likely to be three teams.

Currently all 15 Super Rugby teams play the teams in their own conference on a home and away basis and then four out of the five teams in the other conferences once on a home or away basis rotating year on year.

The three geographical conferences could be increased from five teams each to six teams and the number of matches against the other conference teams could be reduced in order to keep the season the same length as SANZAR do not want further strain on their players.

SANZAR are expected to decide later this year whether to expand Super Rugby when the broadcast deal renews after 2016 and they are wary of weakening the standard of rugby by including teams that are not ready for Super Rugby.

Even though SANZAR have not mentioned Super Rugby expanding into the Pacific Islands former Samoan captain and Chiefs Hooker Mahonri Schwalger says he would jump at the chance to lead an island team.

"Samoa has been trying to break into the competition for the last 10 years," Schwalger told Fairfax.

"The thing we released is it's all about money. All the islands struggle financially. It comes down to sponsors and money to get our best players."

"That's the only downfall about the islands; they don't have the resources to compete with the big countries.

"My heart will always be apart of the Pacific Islands. I would be the first one to put my hand up to play for a team from there."

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew is open to Super Rugby expanding again provided that player welfare concerns are taken into account and the number of games does not increase.

Tew said that the situation for the Pacific Islands is that unless a wealthy philanthropist was prepared to bankroll a team their inclusion in Super Rugby faces many challenges.

"There are certainly some arguments that from a rugby perspective we would like to bring the Pacific Islands in to our competitions in a bigger way," he said.

"Economically it's hard to see how that might work, but that's sitting there."

"It comes down to the ability of a team to have an economic base. There's no point having a team in Fiji, Samoa or Tonga, or a combined team, if you don't have the financial power to make it work.

"One of the challenges is a large amount of their talent is earning a living in the Northern Hemisphere, where they're getting paid more than our players."

Pacific Islands facilities also need a drastic improvement if Super Rugby is to survive in the region but Schwalger has suggested they could find a home in New Zealand's largest city.

"If they want a great place to be based it would be Auckland, it's the biggest Pacific community in the world," Schwalger said.

Another problem facing the Islands is that of finding competent administrators as there is a history of disagreements when they are required to work together as well as past claims of corruption.

"If they want Island rugby to go forward they have to come to some sort of agreement," Schwalger said.

"You need people you can trust. I hope it will work out, but my gut feeling is it won't happen. It doesn't look pretty at the moment."

A idea that is gaining popularity is for Super Rugby to have a second division tournament into which teams could be promoted and relegated as it would ensure that the standard of rugby at the top division (Super Rugby) is always maintained.

The highly successful Heineken Cup in the Northern Hemisphere has a second division tournament called the Amlin Challenge Cup.

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