Fijian Drua to be based in Australia next year

The Fijian Drua will be based in Australia for its inaugural season in Super Rugby.

The Drua were this week confirmed as part of an expanded 12 team competition called 'Super Rugby Pacific', alongside Moana Pasifika and five teams each from New Zealand and Australia.

But the Fijian team is unable to play on home soil in 2022 because of the country's ongoing Covid-19 situation and closed international borders.

Fiji Rugby Chairman Conway Beg said the decision to base the team in Australia next year was to ensure the Drua's first season in Super Rugby was as disruption-free as possible.

"We need to give our team every opportunity for success, and the uncertainty around restriction-free travel between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand as early as February 2022 due to Covid-19 was just too great a risk," he said.

"It will most definitely be a sacrifice for our players, coaching staff and team management to be away from Fiji for the duration of the season, similar to the sacrifices by other Fijian teams to participate and succeed in other competitions.

"But everyone realises the massive opportunity Super Rugby Pacific presents for our players and for the future of our 15s programme."

Fiji Rugby's General Manager of Commerical, Brian Thorburn, has been appointed Interim CEO of the Drua. The Australian-based sports administrator said they were considering a number of locations in Queensland to call their temporary home.

"Queensland as a state has a lot of attractions, climatically for our team in particular, but it's also got fantastic venues and facilities," he said.

"Whether that's in Townsville, the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast for example we haven't settled on but we're blessed in Australia with a number of great alternatives and we will turn our minds to that and make announcements in the next several weeks."

Conway Beg said the inclusion of the Drua and Moana Pasifika "is the shot in the arm that Pacific Rugby needed" and the result of many months of hard work.

"This is the culmination of a dream long-held by Fiji Rugby Union and Fijian rugby fans alike.

"It's a transformational moment for our game, providing the opportunity to bring players home over time and to keep our best players from going overseas."

Fiji Rugby have already identified a potential 38-man squad for next season, which includes Flying Fijians internationals, Fiji sevens stars and national age grade representatives.

The FRU's General Manager of High Performance, Simon Raiwalui, is leading the Drua's player recruitment and said a number of players have already signed contracts.

"We're looking at talent onshore and offshore, primarily based in the Southern Hemisphere. We've made contact with and made a number of quality signings...which will probably be announced next week, so we're well in the works. We've offered contracts out to over 20 plus players players where I'm in negotiations."

The former Flying Fijians captain, who has held coaching roles with Stade Francais, Racing 92 and the Wallabies, said the Drua is not trying to compete with high-end European salaries, and will be primarily a pathway for young Fijian players.

"The Drua is obviously going to be the missing link in our pathways between our national age group teams and the Flying Fijians that we've been missing," he said.

"Traditionally, after our age group teams, such as the Under-20s and the Warriors, our players have had to search for opportunities offshore. The Drua is not only going to provide opportunities to our players but is also going to provide opportunities to our staff, and that's a very important part of our evolution as well."