Fiji host Tonga in opening match in Suva on Saturday
The road to Rugby World Cup 2019 begins for the Pacific Islands this weekend when Fiji hosts Tonga in Suva in the new-look World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2016.
With none of the Pacific Island teams having qualified automatically for Japan 2019, the 2016 and 2017 PNC competitions will combine to deliver two direct qualifiers as Oceania one and two.
The team that finishes third will play the second team in Europe, home and away, with the winner on aggregate qualifying for RWC 2019 and the loser proceeding to the global repechage for one last chance to win a place in Japan.
With the PNC always delivering highly-competitive and compelling action, the addition of the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification dynamic will heighten the excitement. The opening Fiji v Tonga game at ANZ Stadium will feature Rugby World Cup 2015 final referee Nigel Owens of Wales, who will be taking charge of his 71st international, making him the most experienced test referee of all time, passing the record held by retired South African official Jonathan Kaplan.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Over the years, the Pacific Island teams have made a rich and important contribution to rugby, not least on the Rugby World Cup stage. The PNC is always a hard-fought tournament and, with RWC 2019 qualification at stake, I expect this edition to be no different.
“Rugby is growing all over the world and there are now 7.73 million men, women and children participating in a sport that continues to break new frontiers and bring people together through character-building values of solidarity, passion and respect.
“It is because of the tremendous commercial success of our showcase Rugby World Cup that this growth has been made possible and sustainable. The commercial revenues generated by recent events has enabled World Rugby to invest unprecedented funds in rugby worldwide with the Pacific Islands receiving significant financial investment that is pumped into development, tournaments and training, totalling £4 million in 2016.
“Over the next three years around 4,000 players from more than 80 nations across all six World Rugby regions participate in 200 matches in a qualification process that involves well-established and popular regional tournaments. I am sure that there will be surprises along the way and it will be a fascinating journey.
“Rugby World Cup is a magical tournament that creates history and brings joy to millions. We look forward to welcoming the world to Japan 2019 and what promises to be a very special and ground-breaking event.” World Rugby will be making a streaming feed available for the Pacific Nations Cup via http://www.worldrugby.org/pnc.
With 12 teams having secured their place at Japan 2019 courtesy of finishing in the top three of their respective pools, the remaining eight places will be determined by a process of regional and cross-regional qualifiers and, for the first time, a stand-alone round-robin repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier in 2018. All qualified teams will be known by November 2018. Teams competiting in the Oceania Cup could also qualify for Japan 2019. The winner of the Oceania Cup in 2017 will play home and away against the highest-ranked team in the Asia Rugby tournament (excluding Japan) with the winner on aggregate qualifying for the repechage tournament.