World Rugby has announced it will provide a package of financial and administrative support to help facilitate two Pacific Islands teams to join Super Rugby from 2022.
Under the proposed plan, World Rugby’s Executive Committee will provide a £1.2 million ($1.6 million/€1.4 million) annual funding package over a three-year period to support the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika franchises.
The teams will be supported by their respective unions and private equity funding, with the move subject to New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Board approval.
World Rugby say the funding is conditional on these franchises satisfying the necessary financial criteria for entry.
The governing body said the decision is aligned to its core objectives to increase the competitiveness of the global game and ultimately the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups.
The proposal is billed as helping to develop locally-based players into test players, with Fiji, Samoa and Tonga expected to benefit.
"The game-changing potential of the Executive Committee’s decision to support Pacific Island Super Rugby franchises should not be underestimated," said Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby chairman.
"From a strategic perspective, it provides the best-possible platform and pathway for the Islands to reach their potential.
"On a human level, this is absolutely the right thing to do.
"It is great for the players, allowing them to make the choice for the first time to be part of a local professional team at the top level of elite club rugby.
"While recognising that there are still steps to complete, I would like to thank everyone involved, including the unions as well as New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, for their full commitment to this project which is great for rugby."
Super Rugby features teams from Australia and New Zealand, with the club competition having previously included representatives from Argentina, Japan and South Africa.
The addition of Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika would see 12 teams compete in Super Rugby from 2022 onwards.
World Rugby say the announcement completes a journey that began when the international federation’s Rugby Committee met in Suva in 2016 to consider opportunities to further support Pacific Islands rugby on and off the field.
The governing body said it has supported the high performance journey from the Pacific Challenge competition and resulting annual Pacific Combine to the test arena.
World Rugby in partnership with Fiji Rugby and the Fijian Government has underwritten the Fijian Drua’s participation in Australia’s National Rugby Championship, which it won at the second attempt in 2018.
Since its inception in 2018, 75 players have graduated from the Pacific Combine and 17 have gone on to represent the Pacific Islands on the world stage, including seven at Rugby World Cup 2019 and 12 in Fiji’s squad for the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020.
"We are committed to increasing sustainable global competitiveness in both the men’s and women’s game," said Peter Horne, World Rugby general manager.
"By supporting these Super Rugby franchises, we are completing a meaningful competition pathway from local to national team level for Pacific Island players.
"This is entirely in line with the approach we have been taking in other strategically important markets such as North and South America, Japan and Europe."
Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor has described the move as being the "missing piece" to the puzzle in the Pacific Islands, saying it will allow the Pacific Islands best players to have the opportunity to play professional rugby at home.
Vincent Fepuleai and Peter Harding, the chief executives of the Samoa and Tonga Rugby Unions, agreed that the franchises will allow for a greater pathway for the Pacific Islands players.