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Rugby Australia

The outstanding success and rising popularity of rugby union across the Pacific, particularly the women’s game, looks set to continue with the announcement of the Australia-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership (APRUP), a program delivered by Rugby Australia with funding from the Australian Government, through PacificAus Sports.

It comes ahead of a “golden decade” for the game, as Oceania Rugby board member, Jane Wilson, explained.

“Australia will host the 2027 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2029 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Rugby sevens will also be played at the 2032 Brisbane Olympics,” she noted. “[This] will create a significant opportunity for Australia to build on its PacificAus Sports success and invest in pathways that will deliver increased opportunities for Pacific nations to participate and benefit as world sport descends on our region”.

Welcoming blessing from Penina Pasifika Players Fa'asua Makisi and Manu / DFAT Media
The Hon Pat Conroy, Minister for International Development and the Pacific / DFAT Media

Playing, training and growing together

A cornerstone of the APRUP program will be the delivery of the PacificAus Sports Rugby Academy, an initiative built to provide Pacific coaches, trainers and match officials with access to Australian training and expertise, with the goal of increasing the participation of Pacific players and teams in elite-level competition, in the region and beyond.

“The Australia-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership will unite Australia and our Pacific family through rugby union and create new pathways for Pacific and Australian rugby players and staff to play, train, and develop together at the highest levels of our game,” said Rugby Australia CEO, Phil Waugh. “The Government’s investment is a testament to the strength of rugby in our region.”

Former Wallaby Lote Tuqiri and former Super Rugby player Sam Wykes with CEO Aholelei / DFAT Media

Backing rugby talent among Pacific women

Building on the success of the Super W competition (now Super Rugby Women’s), APRUP will also focus on the development of the women’s game.

The Fijian Drua women’s team, back-to-back title winners of the Super W in 2022 and 2023, will receive APRUP funding to help ensure their continued involvement in the competition, and to support the club’s roll out of a national women’s rugby program in Fiji.

Women’s rugby will get a boost in Samoa and the Solomon Islands, too, with APRUP providing additional support for the national Rugby 7s program in both countries.

A highlight of the program is the recent launch of Penina Pasifika, a team comprising players from across the Pacific that will promote the professional development of the region’s emerging talent. Ramsey Tomokino, Head Coach of Manusina, the Samoa’s national women’s team, believes the program will have a significant impact on the women’s game overall.

“PacificAus Sports’ investment into the islands will back our Pasifika girls to play internationally and provide a genuine pathway that will reap massive rewards,” she said. “We look forward to seeing our Pasifika women and girls represent our Islands as a collective on a bigger platform”.

In 2024, the Penina Pasifika team will be competing in a number of Super Rugby Women’s pre-season games in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Tonga’s Shonté To’a, who has previously played with the ACT Brumbies, will be part of the new team.

“PacificAus Sports' support for Penina Pasifika will inspire girls back home to start their own rugby journey,” she said. “It is an investment back into our people and our potential.”

Minister Pat Conroy with representatives from Rugby Australia, Tonga Rugby Union, Penina Pasifika, ACT Brumbies, and Fiji Government / DFAT Media

Celebrating a shared love of rugby

The APRUP announcement is also good news for rugby fans, generating increased opportunities to see the region’s stars in action. Fiji will continue to host games in both the Super Rugby Pacific and Super Rugby Women’s competitions, and clubs across the region will be supported to join regional tournaments, and to host games on their own home grounds.

“Australia and Pacific Islands nations are family, with an enduring history and shared values, which is underscored by a love of rugby that brings us even closer together. The Australian Government is proud to be furthering our partnership with Rugby Australia through PacificAus Sports to give Pacific rugby teams and athletes opportunities to compete at the highest levels in Australia. Crucially, this funding will support pathways for girls and women to shine on and off the field,” said Australia’s  Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Pat Conroy MP.

“In addition to enabling the success of the Fijian Drua and Penina Pasifika, this partnership has also provided unique opportunities for engagement at community, national and regional levels, deepening our people-to-people links and further strengthening our close regional ties.”

Joe Roff, Rugby Australia President / DFAT Media
Aisea Aholelei, Tonga Rugby Union CEO / DFAT Media

The partnership announcement on Tuesday, 27 February was preceded by an early morning game of ‘Tri Tag’ held on the lawns of Parliament House and officiated by former rugby union and rugby league star Mark Gasnier. Participants in the friendly match included Pacific High Commissioners to Australia; Minister Conroy and other Australian Members of Parliament; current Penina Pasifika, ACT Brumbies and Wallaroos players; and former Wallabies and Super Rugby champions including Senator David Pocock and Sam Wykes.

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