Mick Byrne appointed head coach as Fiji targets Nations Championship

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Drua head coach Mick Byrne has been hired to guide the Fijian national men’s rugby team as part of an agreement which could see Fiji play in the upcoming Nations Championship.

In a statement Tuesday, Fiji Rugby said Byrne had been appointed after an “extensive and rigorous selection and negotiation process.” That included discussions between Fiji Rugby, Fiji government ministers and sports officials and World Rugby, represented by Nigel Cass and Simon Rawailui.

“World Rugby clarified that (Fiji’s) performance and ranking at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France has put Fiji in strong position to be part of the Nations Championship competition commencing 2026 through to 2030,” Fiji Rugby said in a statement.

“It would be detrimental to Fiji’s participation in the Nations Championship, in the 2024 Olympics, in Super Rugby Pacific, the 2027 Rugby World Cup and the rest of the World Sevens Series … if the best qualified and proven coaches are not appointed to Fiji’s high-performance national teams.”

Fiji Rugby said an opportunity now exists for further investment by World Rugby in Fiji’s high performance unit and programs which will help Fiji prepare for the Nations Championship.

The plan is for Fiji to be included in a 12-team competition of Tier One nations made up of the Six Nations — Ireland, France, Wales, Scotland, Italy and England — the SANZAR teams — Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa — Japan and Fiji.

“The importance of that opportunity to Fiji Rugby, the Fiji government and all Fijians is astronomical,” Fiji Rugby said. “It guarantees engaging in a high-level competition and potentially hosting five to six test matches against Tier One nations each year between 2026 and 2030.”

Byrne’s appointment was conditional on receiving a long-term work permit, which the veteran Australian coach was granted Monday by the Fiji Ministry of Immigration.

Fiji Rugby said it was delighted to have secured a coach of Bryne’s caliber. As an assistant coach, Byrne had a hand in New Zealand’s World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015. He also has been an assistant coach of the Wallabies and Scotland.

“World Rugby emphasized that Fiji playing Tier One nations on a regular basis as opposed to playing Tier Two nations will only be a reality if the investment in Fiji Rugby’s high-performance by World Rugby is protected through the appointment of the best coaches to coach Fiji’s national teams through a robust, fair, transparent and independent process,” Fiji Rugby said.

It said Byrne also “brings a deep understanding and love for Fijian rugby proven by the progress and achievements of the … Fijian Drua.”

Byrne will continue as head coach of the Drua for the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific season while also preparing Fiji for a test against the All Blacks in San Diego in July, and for other mid-year tests and an end-of-year tour to Europe.


AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby

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