Pacific rugby nations get June boost
NEWS: Pacific Island nations will play five matches against leading Rugby Union nations during the June international window, World Rugby announced.
There has long been criticism that countries such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga do not face enough tier-one opposition outside of World Cups every four years and that this diminishes their chances of performing at their best in the global showpiece, where they have nevertheless made a significant contribution over the years.
This is something officials have tried to address in the new global calendar unveiled by World Rugby last week, but that doesn't kick in until 2020.
However, this June will see Fiji up against Australia, Italy and Scotland before facing Tonga and Samoa in July as part of the Pacific Nations Cup.
Wales will play Samoa in Apia after facing Tonga in Auckland on June 16, with the British and Irish Lions also touring New Zealand at the same time for a three-match series against the world champion All Blacks.
The Pacific Nations Cup matches also act as World Cup 2019 qualifiers with the top two teams on aggregate across the 2016 and 2017 editions securing their places in Japan as Oceania one and two respectively.
Georgia may have been told there's no hope of them or anyone else gaining entry to Europe's elite Six Nations, either directly or via a play-off match, any time soon but the Lelos will travel to the Americas to play Canada and the United States before facing Argentina, while Uruguay will host the World Rugby Nations Cup in Montevideo.
The United States and Canada will meet on June 24 and July 1 in matches that will determine the Americas one seed qualifier for World Cup 2019.
Japan, whose World Cup win over South Africa in Brighton two years ago is regarded by many as the biggest Test upset of them all, will face Romania, the winners of this year's second-tier Rugby Europe Championship, at the Umakana Yokana Stadium in Kumamoto on June 10 before facing Ireland in Shizuoka on June 17 and again the following week in Tokyo.
Before they get to Japan, the Irish will play the United States in New Jersey on June 10.
"With excitement building ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, these matches are great for the global game with a strong programme of tier one versus tier two matches, including the Pacific Islands and Japan hosting games," said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont in a statement issued from the global governing body's Dublin headquarters on Thursday.
"There has been a massive step up in international competition since the last Rugby World Cup and this Test window will allow for some very interesting matches, while also determining who from Oceania and the Americas will book their tickets to Rugby World Cup 2019," the former England and Lions captain added.