Inbound tours return for Pacific Islands
Photo: Kenji Demura (RJP)
- Fiji, Samoa, Japan, Canada, USA and Argentina hosting matches in June
- First inbound Tier 1 Tests for Pacific Islands since 2006
- Scotland tackle Fiji and Samoa this month
- Unprecedented schedule of Tests for Tier 2 and 3
Traditional tours to the Pacific Islands are back as Scotland will become the first Tier 1 Union to play a Test in the Islands since 2006 when they face Fiji and Samoa over the next two weekends.
Italy were the last Tier 1 nation to play a Test in Pacific Islands, losing 29-18 to Fiji, but from this year inbound tests to the Islands will become a regular occurance thanks to the implementation of the 2012-2019 IRB Tours and Test schedule.
Scotland's tour, participation in the annual IRB Pacific Nations Cup and an expanded November schedule will see the three Island nations complete an unprecedented calendar of Test matches in 2012.
November highlights include Samoa playing Tests against France and Wales, Fiji playing England and Ireland Wolfhounds and Tonga facing Scotland and Italy. With more matches in the pipeline for the northern hemisphere tour, the expanded schedule is a big boost for each Union.
The blend of Tier 1 and Tier 2 opposition ensures valuable IRB Rankings points opportunities for the Pacific Islands and is a big boost as the three Unions kick-start their preparations for Rugby World Cup 2015.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "Rugby continues to grow all over the world. We now have more than 5.5 million men, women and children playing the Game and the strength, appeal and success of the international schedule has been central to that growth."
"Our strategic objective is to provide top Tier 2 Unions with a high quality relevant annual Test match programme which is being achieved through our portfolio of strategic investment tournaments and the June and November Tier 1 fixture schedule."
Samoa and Tonga have automatically qualified for Rugby World Cup 2015 owing to their excellent results at New Zealand 2011 and the race is on to gain invaluable rankings points ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in December.
IRB Head of Development and Performance Mark Egan said: "While the Pacific Island Unions are all restructuring their coaching set-ups and blooding new players at the beginning of a new Rugby World Cup cycle. The Scotland Tests provide a timely opportunity to benchmark their new structures against a Tier 1 Union."
"The IRB is currently investing £9 million in Pacific Islands Rugby development, competition and high performance structures and the expanded Test schedule underscores the IRB's commitment to delivering the framework for the Pacific Islands to play more rankings Tests and continue to develop towards cementing their place at Rugby's top table."
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In an unprecedented schedule of matches for Tier 2 and 3 Unions during the June window, Italy and Georgia are touring Canada and USA, Argentina have already hosted Italy and now face two Tests against France as they warm up for their debut in The Rugby Championship alongside Australia, South Africa and Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand.
In Romania, the IRB Nations Cup reaches its climax on Sunday with Russia, Uruguay, Romania, Portugal, Argentina Jaguars and Emerging Italy all in action. There is also a programme of women's international Rugby and regional Sevens during the period.
"We are also in the process of finalising an expanded November schedule for Tier 2 and 3 Unions when almost all of the top 25 teams in the IRB World Rankings will be in action," added Egan.