The Australian Rugby Union, Fiji Rugby Union and World Rugby have today announced that a Fiji-based team will enter Australia’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) competition in 2017.
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama joined ARU CEO Bill Pulver at ARU headquarters in Sydney to deliver the historic news.
The Fiji 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 Buildcorp 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.
ARU CEO Bill Pulver said: “We are incredibly excited to welcome Fiji into the Buildcorp NRC and thank World Rugby for supporting both the ARU and FRU in helping to make this a reality for next season.
“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.”
National Rugby Championship entry will provide a high-level competition environment that aids Rugby World Cup preparation while importantly providing young Fijian players with an alternative to playing overseas.
Fiji were one of the stand-out performers within a tough pool at Rugby World Cup 2015, with the set piece and discipline a highlight. Fiji finished the tournament with the best scrum statistics.
At the heart of their preparation was Fiji’s share in a £15.3 million investment in Pacific Island rugby programmes (both direct into unions and indirect into competitions) by World Rugby over the four-year cycle 2012-15.
A similar figure is forecast to be invested over the new 2016-19 cycle, which will be increased by this exciting new investment underwriting the NRC.
Planning for the Fijians’ inaugural season is well under way with the FRU working towards building a playing roster of up to 30 players and locking in venues for the team’s home matches. All players in the squad will be locally-based.
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 season. The Fiji team will host each of the eight Australian teams in Fiji over a two-year cycle.
The Fijians should be well suited to the fast, open style of Rugby which is synonymous with the Buildcorp NRC. This season the competition has delivered an average of 10 tries per match.
Following this development, ARU CEO Bill Pulver was asked about the possibility of the Wallabies playing a test in Fiji, and this is what he said.