Bledisloe Cup foes Tuipulotu, Sio unite behind Pasifika rugby push

They will be Bledisloe Cup combatants on Saturday night in Sydney but All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Wallabies prop Scott Sio are united in their push to further the prospects of Pasifika rugby, ultimately to see a team join either the New Zealand or Australian domestic competitions in the coming years.

There was a real burst of momentum behind a potential Pasifika Super Rugby team earlier this year when New Zealand's Aratipu review recommended that a side should be added to Super Rugby Aotearoa, only for New Zealand Rugby [NZR] to put off any potential expansion until 2022.

A report earlier this week suggested NZR had agreed to continue talks with the Moana Pasifika bid while Rugby Australia has also stated it would potentially welcome Pasifika involvement in its Super Rugby AU competition; RA had previously brought the Fijian Drua into its National Rugby Championship tournament in 2017.

But Tuipulotu, for one, is wary of getting his hopes up, the All Blacks lock and current Blues captain saying Pacific Island rugby had been down this road before.

"This is something for us, this is something that we want but then again there are a lot of hoops to go through and a lot of cogs to move before we get anywhere," Tuipulotu said. "It's almost like there has been a lot of broken promises over the years and it's hard to really start something."

Speaking in their role as Samoan Tourism Authority Ambassadors, both Tuipulotu and Sio agreed there were challenges that came with setting up a Pasifika side. But given the strong presence of players with Samoan, Tongan and Fijian heritage in both the Wallabies and All Blacks camps, the opposing Test forwards are keen to stay the course.

Sio even raised the prospect of a potential Brumbies-Blues Super Rugby crossover game being staged in Samoa in the coming years.

"It's not that players don't want to be able to travel there, it's that there are a lot of boxes to be ticked and unfortunately we don't have a lot of influence on a lot of that as well," Sio said.

"The more we can use our platform to raise awareness, and that we think it's a great opportunity for both countries to be able to experience that and to grow the game of rugby...I think it can only be better.

"You've got to start somewhere and if we can start that conversation there and help it grow, I think it's only going to benefit us in the long run."

One of the features of this year's Super Rugby Aotearoa season was Tuipulotu acknowledging his heritage, and those fans in attendance at Eden Park with similar lineage, by conducting the opening part of his post-match interviews in Samoan.

"I started taking Samoan classes just to learn the language a bit more; I was thrown in the deep end and I thought I'm learning but I might as well start actually putting it out there," Tuipulotu said.

"[The] after-match interview I did it [in Samoan] and it got received really well and then from there I think TJ [Perenara] started to address the after-match speeches in Maori as well, so I think that was a good starting point just for that whole theme of representing wherever you're from and putting it on the stage."

There have been some suggestions that a Pasifika team in either Auckland or Wellington would cannibalise the existing support for the Blues and Hurricanes respectively. Tuipulotu was confident that wherever a team was placed, it would only add to the gameday atmosphere and would resonate spectacularly with the Pasifika community.

"In terms of Auckland having a Pacific team there, or wherever, I think it would be received really well," he said. "The population in Auckland is pretty busy in terms of a lot of Pacific Island nations and I think you'd probably get more supporters there [than] into a Blues game at Eden Park.

"But saying that it is something that would be received pretty well and it would be exciting, and it would be something pretty cool that a lot of fans in Auckland and New Zealand and in Australia would jump on board."