New Zealand government consider backing Pacific Super side

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The New Zealand government revealed on Tuesday they had conducted a study into the possibility of launching a combined Pacific Islands Super Rugby team, reportedly to help offset China's rising influence in the Pacific region.

Known as the "Pacific Force", the team would feature players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, New Zealand's TV3 reported, with the side to be based in Suva, with home matches to be spread across all three countries as well as Auckland and Sydney.

"Part of the plan is that rugby can be a diplomatic force to counter China's influence in the Pacific," TV3 reported. "The idea is that rugby will help keep hearts and minds away from China, which is saturating the region with money to obtain influence."

Newshub reported on Tuesday New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the New Zealand government carried out a feasibility study into launching a Pacific Island team, which reportedly cost taxpayers NZ$80,000.

It was revealed the team would be an independent franchise and would join the 15 team competition as early as 2021.

But New Zealand Rugby Players' Association chief Rob Nichol said it would be too early to suggest planning had started, with the Government not actually looking at funding the team itself, which would cost many millions.

"(The study) raised as many questions as it answered... to suggest plans are afoot and it's all going to happen is a bit premature," he told Radio Sport.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden confirmed the Government had taken part in the feasibility study, under former Rugby World Cup, Sport & Recreation, and Foreign Minister Murray McCully. But she warned the proposal wasn't something the Government would usually invest in.

"This was new to me," Ms Ardern admitted to The AM Show. "It was a feasibility project that [McCully] put in place to see if it was something that would viable and the impact it would have.

"I've asked some question now about what the result of that was, so it's a little bit of a 'wait and see' for me, because I haven't seen all the outcomes of it yet.

"It certainly wouldn't be something, right of the bat, that I would have thought would fulfil our criteria."

Ms Arden admitted the Government did invest in sport around the Pacific, as a part of an ongoing aid programme, but said funding or launching a professional sporting team would be different.

"This is different and that's why I really want to look at it to make sure we get the outcomes we expect from aid."

Super Rugby administrator SANZAAR is currently examining the future structure of the competition from 2021 to 2030, with speculation ranging from expansion into North America to the further reduction of sides with South Africa teams reportedly looking to join the UK Pro12.