New Fiji Rugby chair keen to forge closer ties with NZ, Australia

The new chair of the Fiji Rugby Union is confident the governing body can weather the Covid-19 storm and says it's time they received a bigger slice of the international rugby pie.

Fiji Rugby announced in April it was cutting costs in an attempt to manage the financial fallout from the coronavirus.

Conway Beg was appointed to the FRU Board late last month by the Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is also President of the rugby union.

The pandemic was causing upheaval with sporting organisations all over the world and Fiji Rugby was no different.

"In terms of how it's impacted us in our capacity to operate - i'd be lying if I didn't say it was," Beg explained. "Of course it does, it's affected everybody, [but] it's how you deal with it, how you move forward from that, how you plan and get strategies in place that do work, that do function and can make a difference."

"Yes, resources are something that we've addressed, we've had to look at and we're going to continue to address that. As we move along we have to look at our cashflow and there is all these elements in running rugby that hasn't been easy at all."

One way to boost resources and income was to play more matches against tier one countries. Beg said it was time Fiji Rugby was treated fairly on the international stage.

"We haven't had our fair share of participating in the big arena, for the reasons that people talk about, but I think it's time to move forward and address that and this is the time to plan, go away and look at things with the reset button in place," he said.

"We're working with the region. I'd like to see our regional partners play a more active role with us moving forward."

The Flying Fijians are poised to feature in an eight-team tournament alongside Japan and the Six Nations rugby countries in the Northern Hemisphere later this year after Covid-19 forced a rethink of the global calendar.

Fijian teams have featured in the Australian National Rugby Competition and Rapid Rugby competitions but have always faced resistance from SANZAAR over attempts to join Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.

"We also want to see ourselves aligning more professionally, taking part it more serious competitions to better prepare our players for the test calendar," Beg said.

"We've got to look at that as well and how that fits in with the bigger picture in the world calendar and also in the region. It's easy to criticise but I think, in fairness, we've got an opportunity to move forward and solidify that."

The Suva Rugby Union stalwart isn't interested in laying blame, however, and said talks with his New Zealand and Australian counterparts about working more closely together have been promising.

"It's time to put that type of thinking aside," he said. "I just want to see a more positive movement forward from here onwards. I do still think we're all part of that proud history in this part of the globe."

"...that for me is the key point in this role is to drive that so we're moving forward and working collectively in that rugby environment that's before us."

An architect by profession, Conway Beg is a former Flying Fijians assistant coach and said he was excited to play a bigger role in the running of the game.

"It's something that we all aspire to do and...with a strong rugby background anybody is capable of doing it, so you're always on the alert for being asked the question. I guess you're never prepared're always prepared if you have a strong rugby background."

"If you've played rugby right through the streams...and travelled the world and played in various parts, like New Zealand as well and in the Northern (Hemisphere) and coming back to Fiji - if you have that rounded experience it actually sets you up well, both mentally and it gives you a bit more of a holistic approach."

Fiji Rugby has received it's share of criticism during the five year reign of Beg's predecessor Francis Kean.

A former navy commander, Kean is brother-in-law to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and was convicted of manslaughter in 2007. He stood down from the World Rugby Council in April and withdrew his nomination for a seat on the influential Executive Committee following allegations of homophobia published in the Sunday Times.

The ABC also reported allegations that Kean kicked teenagers off World Rugby programmes to advance his own local club players, while Fiji's main opposition party has accused the government of interfering in the running of the FRU.

Conway Beg didn't want to comment on Kean or the government's role in Fiji Rugby but said they have a lot of talented and hard-working employees doing their very best.

"I think leadership is the key word moving forward," he said. "We have a very good team at Rugby House - a lot of people don't know. A very exciting, talented team, very colourful and vibrant and a very good board. People don't see that and we need to get more of that out there in the public."

"We understand there's holes, there's governance - we have to address those issues, obviously yes. That's always going to be in our faces...we do feel that we're building towards that and we're working towards the capabilities to ensure that these elements are there and we are providing that support."