Fiji Rugby Union commercial manager Brian Thorburn has been named interim CEO of the Fijian Drua that will comprise 38 players – both local and overseas – who will be based in Australia for the duration of the 2022 season.
In a presser this morning, Rugby House said the decision to assemble and station the team in Australia and the selection of Thorburn as interim CEO were made to prevent and/or minimise, as much as possible, disruption in the Fijian Drua’s first season in view of the COVID-19 restrictions in place.
“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. For this reason, the Fijian Drua will be based in Australia for the 2022 season, playing their home and away matches in Australia and New Zealand,” FRU chairman Conway Beg said.
“Even though the Fijian Drua will not host a home match in Fiji next year, this remains a joyful day for Fijian rugby fans. 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 (most notably, the Olympics). But everyone realises the massive opportunity Super Rugby Pacific presents for our players and for the future of our 15s program.”
On Thorburn’s selection, Beg said: “Brian has been the driving force behind the bid for the Fijian Drua, and is ideally placed to oversee the significant remaining activity leading into the first games in Australia in 2022. He has unrivalled experience in sports administration, especially rugby, having been Commercial Director at Rugby Australia for 11 years, and CEO of the PGA of Australia for 6 years. The FRU Board has every confidence that Brian is the best person to drive the establishment of the club. Following his secondment, Brian will return to Fiji Rugby Union in early 2022 to lead commercial preparations for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in October and the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2023.”
The announcement comes after FRU signed an unconditional license for the team paving the way for the preparatory work both on the field and off the field including the establishment of the franchise team as a separate legal and commercial entity with its board of directors, management and staff.
FRU CEO John O’Connor said the competition promises exciting prospects for Fijian players who will be pitting their skills against some of the best in the world, expressing Rugby House’s gratitude to New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia for the opportunity.
“The rugby world has long known what our players are capable of. We showcased a glimpse of it when the Flying Fijians took on the All Blacks earlier this year, and our 7s teams have been doing it for years on the World Rugby 7s Series and the Olympics. We now get the opportunity to do this week in, week out in Super Rugby Pacific.
“Quite simply, the Fijian Drua’s participation in Super Rugby Pacific would not have been possible without DFAT and PacificAus Sports Program’s support. We are deeply grateful for their commitment to Fiji Rugby, and offer our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Australian Government, Foreign Minister Hon. Marise Payne and Australian High Commissioner to Fiji John Feakes. We also acknowledge and are grateful to the Fijian Government, led by our Prime Minister and Fiji Rugby President, Voreqe Bainimarama, for their support of this major development and ongoing assistance to Fiji Rugby. The Fijian Drua will repay all the faith shown by the people and Governments of Fiji and Australia by doing their absolute best in Super Rugby Pacific.”Fiji Rugby CEO John O’Connor
Beg also stressed that the Fijian Drua have every intention of being based in Fiji for the 2023 season, opening the door for up to seven Super Rugby matches to be hosted at home once the restrictions around travel are eased post-COVID. Announcements relating to players, coaching staff and other exciting developments will be rolled out in the coming days.
The Fijian Drua will feature alongside five New Zealand clubs (Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes) five Australian clubs (Brumbies, Rebels, Waratahs, Reds and Western Force) as well as fellow Super Rugby Pacific debutants, Moana Pasifika.
Super Rugby has so far outlined the structure of the competition, fixtures proper will be released in due course.
Photo: Fiji Rugby