The road to Japan gets underway for European nations this Saturday as the first of the regional Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifiers takes place in Sweden.
Enköping, about 80km from the capital, Stockholm, will provide the backdrop as the hosts face the Czech Republic in the five-team Rugby Europe Conference 1 North. Also competing in that division, which runs on a round-robin basis until May 2017, are Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania. The winner will play off against the Conference 1 South champion for promotion to next season’s Rugby Europe Trophy and will still be in with a chance of making it all the way to Japan in 2019.
Rugby Europe President Octavian Morariu said: “I am delighted that the European qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off in Sweden with the first game of the new Rugby Europe Conference.
“This is an important milestone for our association to showcase the continuous development of rugby in Europe, especially into new territories throughout our continent. We want to inspire people and new generations from all over the continent to play and get involved with the game.
“This is also an opportunity for our member unions to show how European nations have contributed so much to Rugby World Cups in the past and how they are working hard to make sure that continues to be the case. Thank you to Svenska Rugby Förbundet and the Czech Rugby Union for starting this journey towards Rugby World Cup 2019 and good luck to both teams on the road to Japan.”
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “With a very special Rugby World Cup 2015 just a year ago, we are excited to be launching the European qualification process for Japan 2019. The process gives a clear pathway for unions to make it to the tournament and we know that unforgettable moments will be shared by the players and teams who are beginning their Rugby World Cup journey.
“Rugby World Cup is not just a tournament of 20 teams but in fact it is designed to include all full member unions. I would like to thank Rugby Europe and the Swedish Rugby Union for hosting these matches and for being part of this great tournament.”
Svenska Rugby Förbundet President Madeleine Lahti said: “Everyone involved in Swedish rugby is looking forward to Saturday’s big game and to know that we are part of Rugby World Cup 2019 is very special for the players.
“Last year, it was a great disappointment for the guys not to get a win. They felt they were really close several times and that they were able to compete well at this level so there is real optimism in the camp now ahead of our game against Czech Republic. We are ready to take on this challenge. The expectations the players have on themselves are high but they will also know not to underestimate their opponents.
“It is very important for rugby in Sweden and other smaller unions to know there is a clear pathway from where we are now all the way to the Rugby World Cup. It is an opportunity for us to improve and someday make it the pinnacle tournament in the world.”
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. Meanwhile, the pool allocation draw for RWC 2019 will take place in May 2017 in Japan.
Rugby Europe Conference 1 North Fixtures: (All times local)
3 Sep, 2016 – Sweden v Czech Republic, Enkoping (15:00)
22 Oct – Latvia v Luxembourg, Riga (TBC)
5 Nov – Lithuania v Latvia, Kaunas (15:00)
5 Nov – Luxembourg v Sweden, Josy Barthel Stadium (16:00)
12 Nov – Czech Republic v Lithuania, Prague (14:00)
15 Apr, 2017 – Czech Republic v Latvia, Prague (14:00)
22 Apr – Lithuania v Luxembourg, Vilnius (15:00)
29 Apr – Latvia v Sweden, Riga (TBC)
6 May – Sweden v Lithuania, Enkoping (15:00)
6 May – Luxembourg v Czech Republic, Josy Barthel Stadium (16:00)