A Fiji-based team will enter Australia’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) in 2017 through a World Rugby-backed initiative that has been branded a major milestone for the growth of the sport in the Pacific Islands nation.
The NRC is a third-tier competition that launched in 2014 in an effort to boost the development of domestic rugby union in Australia. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU), Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) and World Rugby have now joined forces in the new initiative announced today (Friday) as the sport seeks to tackle the long-running issue of talent drain from Fiji to wealthier rugby-playing nations.
The Fiji NRC team will comprise locally-based players from Fiji’s national second XV, ‘Fiji Warriors’, and will play all of its home matches in Fiji. The team’s participation in the NRC is being underwritten by World Rugby, allowing the Fijians to become the first overseas-based team to join the competition as it enters its fourth season in 2017.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The Pacific Islands play a major role in the sport’s heritage and future and World Rugby is committed to working with our friends and colleagues in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to further assist them with the unique challenges that they face.
“Participation in the NRC will not only provide a superb performance pathway leading in to Rugby World Cup 2019, but it provides locally-based players with a strong alternative to playing club rugby overseas should they wish to remain in the Fijian system.”
Fiji’s men’s team won the inaugural gold medal in rugby sevens at the 2016 summer Olympic Games, while the country has twice reached the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. With the inclusion of the Fiji team, the 2017 NRC will be a nine-team competition. An additional round of matches will be added to make it an eight-week regular season with each team having a bye throughout the campaign. The Fiji team will host each of the eight Australian teams in Fiji over a two-year cycle.
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said: “The Fiji brand of rugby is arguably the most exciting brand of rugby in the world and their inclusion in the Buildcorp NRC will enhance the competition both in terms of the quality of rugby and by adding a huge amount of support and interest from the Fijian communities both in Fiji and here in Australia.
“Most importantly, with a team based in Fiji playing in the Buildcorp NRC, talented young rugby players in Fiji will have an opportunity to play in a quality national competition without having to relocate from Fiji to pursue their aspirations to play high-level rugby.”