Two Pacific Island rugby franchises have been granted conditional licences to join a proposed 2022 Super Rugby competition.
Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua would be part of a 12-team league that would include the five New Zealand and five Australian Super Rugby franchises in a new-look professional tournament.
The addition of the two Pasifika teams will be confirmed pending final business plans and support from Rugby Australia.
All Blacks great Michael Jones, a long-time champion for Pacific Island rugby, says the announcement is a significant milestone.
"We are now on the cusp of realising a long-held desire to include Pasifika in our professional game and the opportunity to embrace all that comes with that," Jones says.
"With the approval of licences, Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua can now forge ahead with the final stages of their business plans, and crucially, start to lock in their playing and coaching rosters for next season.
"It's an exciting time for rugby."
On Wednesday afternoon, Rugby Australia said it is encouraged by the announcement regarding the conditional approval of licences to Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.
"As joint participants and administrators in the competition, Rugby Australia looks forward to understanding the outcomes of the next phase in their licence approval," RA said.
"Rugby Australia is excited about the growth of Rugby in the Pacific and is committed to exploring future opportunities in the region, in conjunction with the continued sustainability and success of Australian Rugby and its Super Rugby teams.
Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer Andy Marinos added: "We look forward to continuing our engagement with NZR on this process as we plan towards 2022.
"Once further conditions around the licences have been met, we look forward to formalising the composition of the teams in what will hopefully prove a new dawn for Rugby in the region."
Confirmation of the two licences comes five months after NZR confirmed Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua were its preferred partners to explore the entry of Pasifika teams in future competitions.
Moana Pasifika took the field for the first time on December 5 last year, when they played the Māori All Blacks in Hamilton.
Then, last month, World Rugby committed NZ$2.3m per annum to help the two Pasifika bids build their business case.
Fijian Drua already have a formidable reputation on the field, winning the 2018 Australian National Rugby Championship in only their second year in the competition.
"We are moving into the final phase of planning for 2022 and beyond," says NZR chief executive Mark Robinson.
"We have confidence that Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will be able to meet the conditions of the licence, which include final sign-off on a sustainable business plan by June 30.
"In the next two months, we will be working with Rugby Australia and the two Pasifika teams to formalise their place in the new competition, for what we believe will kick off an exciting, new era for the professional game."
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