World Rugby has confirmed details of an exciting programme of June test matches, including tier one versus tier two fixtures as the road to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan begins in earnest.
Following a compelling Rugby World Cup 2015 that was the most competitive between the world’s top-ranked teams and emerging rugby powers, Scotland will travel to Japan, Italy play Canada and the USA, while Georgia will play Fiji, Tonga and Samoa in an historic test series in the Pacific Islands. With World Rugby committed to closing the competition gap, the June schedule will also see Rugby World Cup 2019 preparations begin for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, who will participate in a new-look Pacific Nations Cup that will deliver two qualifiers to the showcase event, based on cumulative points over the 2016 and 2017 editions.
With Rugby World Cup 2019 preparation on track and excitement building across Japan, the Brave Blossoms, who shook the world with their famous win over South Africa last year, will welcome Scotland for two tests in June after they travel to play Canada in Vancouver. Japan will also welcome Ireland to their shores in 2017 and Italy in 2018. European Nations Cup champions Georgia will travel to the Pacific Islands, while Russia will face tough competition when they tour USA and Canada in June.
World Rugby Head of Competitions and Performance Mark Egan said: “Following the most competitive and compelling Rugby World Cup to date, World Rugby continues to be committed to supporting tier two nations with high quality fixtures and high performance support. “Our investment programme of more than £50 million over the last four-year cycle meant that tier two sides conceded fewer points and scored more tries against their tier one opposition at Rugby World Cup 2015 than in any previous tournament, and we are committed to closing the gap further as we work towards the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.”
The annual World Rugby Nations Cup will also give an opportunity to hosts Romania, Uruguay and Namibia to build on their Rugby World Cup 2015 performances as they play each other in the traditional round-robin competition on 9, 13 and 18 June in Bucharest. The Nations Cup features tier one opposition in the form of Emerging Italy and an Argentina XV, while Spain complete the line-up at an exciting tournament that forms an important part of the high-performance pathway for the participating nations and for the ongoing growth of rugby in Romania.
Due to Georgia playing Fiji, Tonga and Samoa in June, the World Rugby Tbilisi Cup will not take place in 2016. As previously announced, Georgia will welcome the future stars of world rugby in 2017 when they host the World Rugby U20 Championship. The international fixture list for November will be announced in due course.