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SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos responds to Ben Ryan’s Fiji Super Rugby team bid

Former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan wants to develop a Super Rugby team in Fiji. Photo: Louie DouvisSuper Rugby administrators have poured cold water on a proposal to give embattled Pacific Island nation Fiji a team in the southern hemisphere competition.

Former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan is spearheading a private bid to build a 20,000-seat stadium in the Fijian resort precinct of Denarau, and has also backed a proposal to move the struggling Wellington Sevens to Fiji should the New Zealand Rugby Union decide to relinquish their hosting rights.

Ryan has chosen to side step the Fiji Rugby Union on both issues, questioning their governance and financial credentials and capacity to make either proposal a success.

But it appears he has also side stepped the Super Rugby gatekeepers, who are close to finalising a strategic review and responded to his comments to Fairfax Media with a terse statement.

“SANZAAR has noted with interest the ‘campaign’ led by former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan to develop a Super Rugby team in Fiji. However, SANZAAR would like to state categorically that there has been no direct approach whatsoever from Ben Ryan, or anyone else, on his proposal,” a statement, released on Friday, said.

SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos called the proposal “strange” and invited Ryan to approach him about the idea.

“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,” 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.”

Ryan conceded the proposal, first floated back in November, had run into delays over a stadium site. But he insisted there was still momentum – and money – in their favour.

“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.

Ryan was less bullish about talk of moving the ailing Wellington Sevens to the island nation. Average crowds of 10,000 across each day have prompted the New Zealand Rugby Union to declare the future of the once-iconic tournament in the capital well and truly up in the air.

The NZRU still have two years left in their contract to host the tournament and moving it to Auckland or Dunedin, a thriving university town, are still options. Fiji host the successful Coral Coast Sevens but would still be an out-of-the-box choice, no more so than because global world series sponsor HSBC has traditionally targeted key commercial markets.

Ryan said it would be “tough but not impossible” to get the idea across the line.

“Everyone is in agreement that Wellington is dead, it’s gone,” he said. “If Fiji fans hadn’t been there [last] weekend I don’t think anyone would have been there. It’s the worst tournament now in the series and it was the best when I started.

“It needs to move and I think the bold thing would not be repackaging it in New Zealand but allowing it to go to the islands. That would be completely down to the NZRU. They’ll decide whether it’s worth keeping or not.”

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