Ryan welcomes Fijian Super Rugby talks

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 09:00
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REACTION: Olympic gold medal-winning coach Ben Ryan has welcomes news that SANZAAR is prepared to 'talk' about the prospect of a Fijian team in Super Rugby.

Ryan, the man who led Fiji to Olympic gold last in the Sevens code last year, was putting together plans for the island nation to enter a team into Super Rugby.

SANZAAR said that although they are 'unaware' of plans to start a Fijian Super Rugby team, they are open to talks about the subject.

And Ryan responded by saying that he has reached out to SANZAAR.

"SANZAAR has noted with interest the 'campaign' led by former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan to develop a Super Rugby team in Fiji," the organisation said in a statement on Friday.

"However, SANZAAR would like to state categorically that there has been no direct approach whatsoever from Ben Ryan, or anyone else, on his proposal," the statement added.

"It seems strange that there is a campaign being led by Ben Ryan, mainly in the press, that could impact directly on Super Rugby and yet SANZAAR - the tournament owner - is completely in the dark about the proposal," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said.

"SANZAAR would welcome a conversation and is very open to talking with Ben or any of his associates on his proposed plan should he choose to engage with us," added Marinos.

Ryan has been public about his desire to set up a Fijian Super Rugby team.

"You spend time with the players - we all made a lot of sacrifices over the last three years - and you don't want to see it suddenly disappear," Ryan said of the success he achieved with the Fijian Sevens team - winning back-to-back World Series titles and the Olympic gold medal in Rio last year.

"Also, being there for three years, you understand what needs to be done to improve it.

"I've spent time with the players' association, I understand what the problems are with the guys that go overseas, and I've worked within the Fiji Rugby Union and I understand exactly what's wrong and what's right about it.

"Perhaps now, away from Fiji, I can voice all of that. If I don't, I don't think anyone else will. We can just peter along for the next 20 years and Fiji rugby will never improve, or I can get a bit of grief from the FRU and all sorts of things, but I might be able to cause a few things to happen."

Ask Ryan what needs to happen and he answers straight away.

"We need a Super Rugby team on the island. Simple as that, really. Stop moaning about losing players and just have our own. That's why people leave, there's no professional team on the island. If there was, the best boys would stay and that would solve 80 per cent of our problems."

It isn't the first time he has spoken publicly about the concept. In November he floated the AUS$33 million proposal for a privately-backed franchise to play in a 20,000-seat stadium on the resort island of Denarau, but it generated a quizzical denial from his former employers, the FRU.

Ryan, in Sydney this week for the fourth leg of the 2016-17 Seven World Series, again took his former employer to task.

"The FRU have got the best Sevens team in the world - back-to-back world champions, Olympic gold medallists, one of the most iconic teams in the world - and they've lost sponsors and they've not paid their players for the first three months," he said.

"It shows me they're not fit for purpose to run a team. They need to allow the team to be franchised and commercially operated to make the most of it, and give us a long-term stability."

Ryan is spearheading the Super Rugby bid, reportedly with four global companies and two leading kit manufacturers at his back.

He admits it has been stalled over access to land on which to build the stadium, but is adamant there is still a groundswell of momentum on the islands to get the concept off the ground. With due respect to World Rugby efforts to halt the player drain from Fiji and its neighbours, Ryan said it is the only way to parlay the country's abundant talent and passion for rugby into something internationally competitive.

"It would be incredibly successful if done right and a great marketing strategy for Super Rugby. This could be a team with a lot of flair, within three or four hours' flight of about 10 of the Super Rugby teams, so it's a good fit for everyone," he said.

Additional reporting by the Sydney Morning Herald

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