Asia Pacific Dragons express Super Rugby interest

The Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Dragons have expressed an interest in Super Rugby. Photo: Getty...
The Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Dragons have expressed an interest in Super Rugby. Photo: Getty Images
The Asia Pacific Dragons are the latest team to express their interest in joining an expanded Super Rugby competition.

The Hong Kong-based Dragons were first formed as an exhibition side in 2011 and last year competed alongside teams from Fiji and Samoa in Global Rapid Rugby.

They missed out to the Sunwolves six years ago in their first attempt at joining the Super competition.

The General Manager of Dragons' owners Carinat Sports Marketing, Sam Lawrence, said it was a good bid to lose.

"There was no real time for the Sunwolves to build a successful team or commercial programme and I think if you're on the back foot from the start it's virtually impossible to claw back," he said.

"I think the key learning for us is definitely patience [and] giving yourself enough time to build success. If our team is given the nod ahead to go to the Super Rugby then it's all about success, on the field and off the field, so we need to give ourselves enough time to make sure we've got a sustainable commercial programme in place."

New Zealand Rugby is keen to add a Pacific team to the Super Rugby mix and is currently considering expressions of interest from a range of bids, including the Dragons and the team behind the Kanaloa Hawaii team in Major League Rugby.

But Sam Lawrence said they were not ready to enter a team next year and had submitted a bid to join in 2022.

"Our proposal is for 2022 and this is only going to allow everyone time to ensure huge success," he said.

"You've got to look at all aspects from player recruitment, squad time, commercial preparations. Working with the grass roots is another avenue that we see which is hugely important so therefore we really aren't interested in 2021."

Previous attempts to establish a Pacific Island team in Super Rugby had been hamstrung by a lack of funding.

Lawrence was adamant the Dragons had the financial backing to be sustainable.

"We've had a crack at Super Rugby in 2014. We've come back and had a crack at it now, so...NZ Rugby is well aware of where we sit and what our funding model is and we wouldn't put our feet at the table if we weren't able to meet those expectations or requirements."

The Dragons have entered an under 18 team in the World Schools Festival for the past two years, while the opportunity to bid for a place in Super Rugby has come about faster due to Covid-19, he said.

"I think Covid has obviously enforced the realities that the Super Rugby model wasn't working or as commercially successful as it needed to be. I think we're living now in a Covid world, or in a new world, with new opportunities and new thinking.

"I think we really need to rethink and actually change our approach to working, needing to work with private entities such as ourselves and the likes of [Western Force owner] Andrew Forrest who had established the Global Rapid Rugby model in 2019."

Lawrence said they intended to work closely with the national unions in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga if their bid was given the green light.

He pointed to a rich history of having Polynesian influencers within the Asia Pacific Dragons team.

"We were established nine years ago now and I think if you look at the players that have played for our team, we've been very strong in promoting Polynesian talent and I think we most definitely want this team to reflect a heavy Polynesian influence."

"The big thing for us is that with rugby in the Pacific or Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, their national teams have fallen back slightly in recent years.

"We believe that the APD's [Asia Pacific Dragon's] and a high performance programme where we can work with those three unions, attract some of their players that are potentially overseas to come back and play for us where they're going to be together for longer periods of time, only supports what they're trying to do with their year on year programmes."

While the initial plan would be to host games in Auckland and Singapore, the Dragons were interested in taking games to the Pacific Islands.

"I think it's somewhere that has probably been neglected in some cases," Lawrence suggested.

"You've got to look at the commercial viability in that but I think where we're looking at is that Auckland would be a great place to base yourself, it's probably the biggest Polynesian capital of the world."

Lawrence said Auckland was definitely key for the bid.

"Singapore, throughout Asia and Hong Kong, but we're also very clear we want to take rugby to the provinces in New Zealand as well."

"I've had a couple conversations with CEO's around the country and they've been very supportive of us looking at bringing Super Rugby to the provinces...where there are big Polynesian communities."

The Asia Pacific Dragons have also held discussions with Rugby Australia about joining a competition across the Tasman, if both parties fail to agree terms with NZR.

"We've spoken to rugby Australia and they've shown a keen eye to build a programme there if they're not included in the NZ Rugby programme."

Lawrence said to have a Pacific team join the Australian competition is not to be ruled out and the Dragons remain in conversation with them around that.

New Zealand Rugby is currently working through the respective bids to join Super Rugby Aotearoa and a decision on the agreed format and teams is expected in the coming days.

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