- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 29 March 2023, 9:57AM
By James Perry
The next phase in the evolution of Moana Pasifika rugby takes place next month when the team will play in Samoa for the first time when they take on Queensland Reds at Apia Stadium.
The Auckland-based Super Rugby Pacific team is the realisation of a long-held dream of supporters of Pacific Island rugby, including All Blacks legends Savae Sir Michael Jones and Tuifa’asisina Sir Bryan Williams.
“Finally, our dream to play on Samoan soil will come true. It has been our ambition from the very start to bring the competition to our home nations,” says Jones, who is also the Moana Pasifika chair.
Moana Pasifika Pelenato Sakalia says the historic moment hasn’t quite sunk in yet for the organisation.
“I think it will sink in once we actually touch down at the airport. But it’s a hugely historic moment and one that a lot of legends have worked for for a very long time.”
While the team is based in Aotearoa and largely contains players born or raised here, Sakalia says it’s important for Moana Pasifika to play games in the “homelands” to pay tribute to the rich history of rugby in the islands.
Playing in home nations
“A lot has been spoken about the Pacific talents that have blessed New Zealand and Australia and other parts of the world but very little has been recognised of the homes where everyone comes from. So for us, in our humble beginnings as a startup franchise and professional rugby, for us to go back to what we call our home nations, to Samoa to Tonga and other places, we’re going back to where it all began.”
Making the event more special is having 14 current Manu Samoa representatives in the squad.
“For them to go back and be a part of playing in the first professional game for this franchise at Apia Park is huge. The biggest thing we’re going to have to do is contain the emotions, not just for the players, but for everyone involved on the sidelines as well.”
They will draw inspiration from the Fijian Drua side, another expansion team in Super Rugby Pacific, which earlier this month upset six-time champions Crusaders in front of a parochial home crowd in Lautoka. Sakalia says that showed what it means for Pasifika players to play in front of their people.
“It’s a reflection of just how much it means for them. People say the crowd is the 16th player, I think it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than just being an additional player. I think it just brings so much in for our players and it has just as much meaning as it does for the Drua players.”
More game visits
There is hope in future seasons Moana Pasifika can take more than one game back to the homelands, including to Tonga which, along with Samoa, helped secure the franchise’s licence.
But with costs to broadcast next month’s game alone exceeding $300,000, Sakalia says finding an economic model to sustain the game in the Pacific is crucial to playing more games there.
”That [$300,000] is over and above running the game in itself in Samoa or the Pacific. That’s the only reason that prevents us from being able to play more games there. If you talk to Drua, even with the critical mass in terms of the big economy relative to Samoa and Tonga, they’ve found it really tough to get their games in Lautoka, and Suva.
“So, if we can somehow work with all the stakeholders and Super Rugby to come up with a viable model, there will definitely be more games played in the Pacific, no doubt!”
Tickets to the historic match on April 14 went on sale this week for as little as WST$10 ($5).
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission
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