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Fears that the three leading Pacific Island nations Fiji, Samoa and Tonga might miss out on the 2019 Rugby World Cup have been eased after World Rugby released the qualifying process for Japan 2019.
The three Pacific Island nations all failed to finish in the top three of their pools at the recent World Cup which means that they did not qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
Fiji were pooled in a particularly difficult pool which also saw England eliminated after losses to Wales and Australia.
But World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, announced that two teams will qualify from a Pacific Tri-Nations championship played on a home and away basis over June 2016 and 2017.
In addition, the team that finished third in that tournament will still have a chance to reach Japan 2019 by contesting a home and away play-off with the second-ranked team in the Rugby Europe Championship (excluding Georgia) which will see the aggregate winner go through to the finals. The loser will qualify for a new repechage tournament.
The top three teams in each pool at this year’s World Cup will qualify for Japan 2019, with champions New Zealand heading a list that also includes Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Ireland, Scotland, France, Wales, Georgia, Japan, England and Italy.
In addition, the highest-ranked team from the second-tier Rugby Europe Championship (excluding Georgia) will qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
Meanwhile in the Americas section, Canada and the United States will play home and away with the winner on aggregate qualifying for Japan.
The loser will play home and away against the top-ranked South American team (excluding already-qualified Argentina) with the winner on aggregate going through to the finals.
The loser of this match qualifies for the repechage tournament.
There will be one qualifier via the winner of the Rugby Africa Championship, with the runner-up entering the repechage event.
Elsewhere, the highest-ranked team from the Asian Rugby Championship (excluding Japan) will play home and away against the winner of the Oceania Cup with the winner on aggregate qualifying for the repechage tournament.
The repechage tournament will feature four teams playing in a round-robin format, with the winners qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said in a statement: “Rugby World Cup 2015 was the most compelling and competitive Rugby World Cup to date, demonstrating the ever-increasing competitiveness of the world game in 15s.”
The Frenchman added: “We are committed to further increase competitiveness at international level and the Rugby World Cup 2019 regional qualification process is designed to give all full member unions an opportunity to qualify, while delivering the best teams on merit.”
This year’s World Cup, which saw Japan beat South Africa on the opening weekend in the greatest upset in the tournament’s history, was the most competitive yet, with the average winning margin between elite tier one and second-string tier two nations down from 36 to 30 points.
World Rugby said details of the regional competition formats and dates would be announced in due course.
RWC 2019 qualification principles
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