Strike the Asia Pacific Dragons from the list of possible Pasifika entrants into an expanded Super Rugby Aotearoa competition in 2021.
While New Zealand Rugby is closing in on a decision about the 2021 competition, the Dragons insist they only want to be considered from 2022 onwards, and will instead focus on setting up a World Tens series to tap into the US market and take advantage of the Sevens format’s current woes.
“We believe in order for any team to be successful in 2021 they must be already in dialogue with marketable players off-shore who can support the young talent coming through the ranks in competitions such as the Mitre 10 Cup and also in the Pacific Islands,” Sam Lawrence, the general manager of Dragons owners Carinat Sports Marketing, told Stuff on Friday.
“Super Rugby Aotearoa was brutal.
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“It’s the best competition in the world in the way of quality and in order to compete you’re going to need a talented squad with experienced players.
“Our involvement in the World Tens Series in 2020 and also 2021 would provide the ideal opportunity and build up to participate in Super Rugby 2022.”
The addition of potential teams into Super Rugby Aotearoa now appears to be a two-step process, with NZ Rugby first set to finalise its plans for next year before looking again at potential franchises for 2022.
NZ Rugby is expected to make a decision on 2021 by the end of the month, but the tight timeline for bidders to get a team together for the start of next year has clearly made some bidders nervous.
“NZ Rugby have advised they will look at the 2022 competition once the 2021 structure is in place,” Lawrence said. “We will likely be re-engaged during November.
“They have been fairly transparent on the process, and we continue to remain in dialogue with NZ Rugby and also Rugby Australia.”.
Carinat will instead focus on its hybrid Tens series with an event in Bermuda from late October to early November, when former Wallaby and Tonga coach Toutai Kefu will coach the Dragons.
Lawrence sees the Bermuda event as precursor to an expanded series in 2021 and beyond that the Dragons will use to supplement the incomes of Super Rugby players.
“The big thing for us is that it strengthens our bid in terms of if we are going to go after players that are overseas,” Lawrence said.
“They can come and play Super Rugby, and then they don’t have to go back overseas for the second half of the season.
”They would stay with the APD [Dragons] brand, and not have to take their family and set up somewhere else.
”In terms of attracting families back to New Zealand, where the quality of life is amazing, and they can still be full-time, professional rugby players for 12 months of the year.”
The Tens series is also seen as a way to make a splash in the US market, and comes at a time when unions such as England are pulling the plug on Sevens funding in the wake of the Covid-19 cash crunch.
“We identified that the Sevens game is pretty much dead in the water,” Lawrence said.
”You can see that the national bodies are not supporting it any more.
“Sevens is dead in the water, the 15s game is very confusing for emerging markets to understand, whereas Tens is the great hybrid.
“It’s going to provide entertainment and that’s where we think we can attract the US market.”
The US market remains something of the holy grail for rugby, simply because of its sheer scale.
“The big thing we want to tap into…the US sports market is worth $60 billion,” Lawrence said.
”World Rugby is valued at about $1 billion.
“If we can tap into that $60 billion, even at the lowest levels possible, it’s a game changer.
“It’s tapping into that potential US sports market. No one has been able to unlock it.
“The barrier to entry into the MLR are very high due to the costs involved.
“Our model is very much a win-win for team owners, tournament owners and obviously the World Tens Series itself.”