Lane Cove Local Brian Thorburn Appointed Interim CEO of Super Rugby’s Newest Team Fijian Drua

The Fijian Drua team has been granted an unconditional license to play Super Rugby by the New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia.

Fijian Drua promises to bring in a new level of excitement to what is already the world’s best professional rugby competition.

The entire squad is to be based in Australia for the 2022 season due to uncertainty around COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The competition’s newest club will feature five New Zealand clubs (Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes) and five Australian clubs (Brumbies, Rebels, Waratahs, Reds and Western Force), as well as fellow Super Rugby Pacific debutants, Moana Pasifika.

The Fiji Rugby Union, the initial owner of the Fijian Drua, said they are thrilled to see a format that offers all participating teams a fair shot at the playoffs.

Fiji Rugby Chairman Conway Beg stated: “Fiji Rugby is on the cusp of one of its biggest ever achievements through the inclusion of the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby Pacific from 2022.”

“We have now signed our unconditional license for the Fijian Drua, and in due course, we will confirm the establishment of the Fijian Drua as a separate legal and commercial entity.”

“The club will have its own Board of Directors, management, and staff.”

“And of course, most excitingly, the signing up of a squad of Fijian players who will pit their skills against some of the best in the world once the competition kicks off in February 2022.”

It’s the Fijian Drua club’s intention to be based in Fiji for the 2023 season, opening the door for up to seven Super Rugby matches to be hosted in Fiji once the restrictions around travel are eased post-COVID.

Beg also announced that the current General Manager Commercial of FRU, Lane Cove Local, Brian Thorburn, has been seconded to the Fijian Drua to act as Interim CEO until 2022.

Beg said: “Brian has been the driving force behind the bid for the Fijian Drua and is ideally placed to oversee the significant remaining activity leading into the first games in Australia in 2022.”

“He has unrivalled experience in sports administration, especially rugby, having been Commercial Director at Rugby Australia for 11 years, and CEO of the PGA of Australia for 6 years.”

“The FRU Board has every confidence that Brian is the best person to drive the establishment of the club.”

“Following his secondment, Brian will return to Fiji Rugby Union in early 2022 to lead commercial preparations for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in October and the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2023.”

Brian Thorburn added: “Our bid team has been working very hard to achieve this long-awaited dream of a place for a Fijian team in Super Rugby.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to be ready in 2022, and I’m both honoured and excited to lead that process.”

Brian Thorburn confirmed that announcements relating to players, coaching staff and other exciting developments will be rolled out in the coming days.

FRU CEO John O’Connor said ‘The Fijian Drua will bring a new level of excitement to the competition and promise to play with high octane flair and skills that are uniquely Fijian.”

“The rugby world has long known what our players are capable of. We showcased a glimpse of it when the Flying Fijians took on the All Blacks earlier this year, and our 7s teams have been doing it for years on the World Rugby 7s Series and the Olympics.”

“We now get the opportunity to do this week in, week out in Super Rugby Pacific.”

We asked Brian to tell us more about himself.

How Did You Start in Sports Event Marketing and Management?

After 20 years of working in the corporate banking sector, it was time for a change. In 1996, I started working with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) as their General Manager of Commercial Operations. I’m passionate about all sports, and being a former Rugby player, the ARU job was a dream, and I was with them for 11 years, during a golden period for Rugby in Australia.  While I was there, I oversaw the marketing and delivery of ten successive seasons of Super Rugby and Tri Nations Rugby. I was also heavily involved in the staging of the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

Part of my job was to drive big crowds at our domestic Test matches, and we were lucky to have a great product in the Bledisloe Cup and a great team in the Wallabies, so we took those matches to big stadia and got massive crowds in those years. It started with taking the Bledisloe to the MCG, where we got over 90,000 people, and there were many highlights for me, including:

  • ANZ Stadium started construction in September 1996, and I was privileged to be there to help lay the first grass in 1998.
  • We had a fantastic Centenary Test between Australia v England in June 1999, where the teams played in the jersey colours from the first test match 100 years before. (light blue for Australia and dark blue for England).
  • Watching 107,000 voices sing Waltzing Matilda with John Williamson at a Bledisloe Cup match at Stadium Australia (as it was then known).
  • Helping to bring a world record crowd of 109 000 to Stadium Australia to watch one of the greatest Bledisloe Cup matches ever in July 2000. Australia came back from a massive deficit only to be denied by Jonah Lomu’s brilliant try as he tiptoed down the sideline.

What Did you do after you left the ARU?

In 2007 I decided I would work with other sports, so I set up an office on Longueville Road and worked with cricket, netball, rugby league, football and several other sports.

Then in 2010, I was approached and appointed by the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) to be their CEO, and I enjoyed six great years running professional golf in Australia until early 2017.  It was a great job, and going to the US Masters and British Open each year was a highlight, as were the Presidents Cup and the Rio Olympics. But it also had plenty of challenges, with one of the biggest being the staging of the 2012 Australian PGA Championship at Clive Palmer’s Coolum Resort.  We had a massive dispute over the 62 grass signs Clive decided to paint on the fairways of Coolum, and it became a brawl which created headlines like “Clive Palmer’s Titanic dispute as golf bosses teed-off with T-Rex.”

Clive Palmer was promoting several of his projects like Titanic on the fairways, and of course, we also had to deal with his 18 meters high Dinosaur.  When we started sending legal letters, the dispute escalated, and Clive kicked us out of the golf course, parked a tractor next to the ninth green, and told us that he would rip it up if we didn’t back off. We got through the tournament in the end, but the next year, we moved it to Royal Pines on the Gold Coast, where it has been held ever since.

I also worked with the PGA to introduce the Greg Norman Medal and the SONIQ Million Dollar Hole and was a member at large on the Selection Committee for the World Golf Hall of Fame. So it was a great job, but the downside was that I was travelling up to 200 nights a year and really wanted to spend more time with Ally and my family.  So, I’m now running my own sports marketing and events management company.

Greg Norman and Brian Thorburn

Tell us about your involvement in the Invictus Games?

Due to my experience in sports management, I guess I was asked to join the board of the Invictus Games, which was held in Australia in 2018.

The word ‘Invictus’ is Latin for ‘unconquered’ and embodies the fighting spirit of our wounded, injured and ill servicemen and women.

The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 was organised by Australian International Military Games Limited, a not-for-profit charity responsible for planning and delivering the event.

The Board members were made up of senior representatives of Federal and State Governments and senior functional experts who have experience in complex event staging. It was s wonderful board and an amazing cause with so many dedicated people working together to bring Prince Harry’s vision to Australia.

Garry Robinson and Brian Thorburn at Parliament House

Why did you choose to Live in Lane Cove?

I’ve lived on the North Shore virtually all my life, growing up in Roseville, and in 2002 we were looking around the North Shore, and we thought we had found a place in Roseville.  Before going to the auction, we stopped at a vacant block of land in Austin Street and just knew that was the place for us.  We could not believe there was a vacant block of land in Lane Cove so close to the Lane Cove Village and Lane Cove Public School.  We worked with an architect to design a three-storey home with the bedrooms up the top and the entertainment room and party level down the bottom.  We sold that house and now live near the golf course in Lane Cove.

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