World Rugby claims its multi-million investment has transformed Pacific Islands rugby

World Rugby believes that Saturday’s Pasifika Challenge in Auckland featuring Fiji, Samoa and Tonga is a fitting culmination for a £20million investment plan aimed at ensuring these three Pacific Island nations arrive at the World Cup in the best possible

Fiji will play Tonga and Samoa face a New Zealand Heartland XV at Eden Park two years after the initial Pasifika Challenge saw Samoa take on New Zealand and Tonga play Wales at the same venue in 2017.

Ahead of this latest New Zealand celebration of Islands rugby, World Rugby has highlighted how it partnered with the three unions in a four-year high-performance support programme where direct and indirect support from the game’s governing global body is expected to reach £20 million from 2016-19.

That is apparently an increase of 30 per cent compared to the previous four-year cycle and the investment is in addition to insurance coverage and long-term high-performance initiatives such as the Pacific combine and the Fijian Drua which help to retain and develop some of the Pacific Islands’ best young talent.

“We have been working in partnership with the Pacific Islands over the last four years to tailor high performance programmes that meet their needs and are geared towards optimal preparation and performance in a Rugby World Cup context,” explained Peter Horne, World Rugby’s high performance general manager.

“With a comprehensive programme in place, we are confident that the Pacific Islands are in a great place heading into Japan 2019. The Pasifika Challenge II will be an excellent and highly competitive Test, giving the teams an important opportunity to fine-tune their preparations in one of the world’s most iconic rugby venues.

“World Rugby’s wider £20m commitment to the Pacific Islands in this four-year cycle includes supporting the high-performance pathway with initiatives such as the Pacific Combine, player and staff academies and the Fijian Drua and it is pleasing to see players who have graduated from these initiatives now selected for World Cup 2019.”

The Pacific Combine is a week-long skills camp run by World Rugby, in association with the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga rugby unions, consisting of a programme of on-field and off-field activities for local players who are capped but unsigned.

The second edition took place in Suva in March 2019, with Englandattack coach Scott Wisemantel overseeing it for the second year in a row, assisted by former Waratahs head coach Chris Hickey.

Top-performing players are selected into a high potential playing pool from which some players are given the opportunity to obtain a contract with a semi-professional club in Australia, New Zealand or the USA.

Flying Fijians’ scrum-half Frank Lomani was first scouted at the Pacific combine in 2018 and integrated into the Fijian Drua squad before graduating to play Test rugby.

The Drua is a three-way initiative from World Rugby, the Fiji Rugby Union and the Fiji Sports Council to fund and support a Fijian team to play in Australia’s National Rugby Championship (NRC).

Since its creation in 2017, a number of Drua players have graduated through the ranks of the Flying Fijians and seven of them will represent their country in Japan.