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Pacific Nations Cup enters new era with expanded competition

By Ned Lester
SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 17: Albert Tuisue of Fiji celebrates victory with teammate Samuel Matavesi after defeating Australia during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Pauline Ballet - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The Pacific Nations Cup has had a revamp, with two new teams added and a new pool structure feeding a playoff that will culminate in a grand final played in either Japan or the USA each year.

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The pools are determined by location, so the Pasifika teams – Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – will make up pool A while Japan join newcomers Canada and the USA in pool B.

The seedings from pool play will then determine the semi-final matchups as well as the 5th/6th playoff.

The competition kicks off on August 23 with the Flying Fijians taking on Manu Samoa. The dates of the expanded competition are in line with the new international rugby calendar, future-proofing its place in the new age of global competition.

The new structure ensures one home game and one away test for each nation within pool play before Japan hosts the 2024 playoffs. The land of the rising sun will alternate with the USA for hosting honours each year.

The competition will be available to watch globally through local broadcast patterns, as well as on RugbyPass TV.

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World Rugby’s High-Performance Pathways and Player Development Manager Simon Raiwalui said: “We are incredibly proud and excited to launch the revamped Pacific Nations Cup this year with a vibrant brand and an optimised match schedule. The six teams taking part in the competition will benefit from long-term certainty around fixtures, allowing them to optimise their preparations and engage with fans and commercial partners.

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“With so much talent in the Pacific Islands, Japan and the two North American teams, fans can expect a tough contest and a great spectacle epitomised with epic finals in Japan.”

World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “World Rugby’s mission is a global sport for all. The reimagined Pacific Nations Cup is an example of our mission in action. Combined with the proposed new two-division global competition model from 2026 and crossover fixtures against high-performance unions, performance unions could be playing an unprecedented number of annual fixtures from 2026.

“The model supports welfare and also provides unprecedented certainty of fixtures for unions to help increase awareness, excitement and value, while the grand final in the USA every two years is at the heart of our strategy to grow rugby visibility, accessibility and relevance on the road to Rugby World Cup 2031 and 2033. In short, this is a competition that serves several important purposes.”

Japan men’s head coach Eddie Jones added: “The Pacific Nations Cup is really important for Japan because it allows us to play regular tests against strong countries in tournament conditions, which is great practice for the players for Rugby World Cup.

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“The Pacific Nations Cup fits in right next to the Rugby Championship and Six Nations in providing that regular competition for Pacific nations. Having finals is also a good way for players to experience games that have consequences, and it is great for Japan to host them in the first year, showing why it is a great rugby country.”

USA Rugby CEO, Ross Young added: “This is a massively exciting day for USA Rugby, as many years of hard work and collaboration comes together in an official schedule of events. Kicking off our Pacific Nations Cup campaign on home soil in Los Angeles will be a premier experience as we lay foundation for the finals series to be hosted here in 2025. We’re thrilled for the rugby community to join us in this new era of annual competition and opportunity for USA fans and partners alike.”

Tonga Rugby Union Acting CEO Aisea Aholelei said: “The Tonga Rugby Union is excited about this revamped Pacific Nations Cup because of its significance to Tongan rugby and the ‘Ikale Tahi team. The competition will be fierce as all teams will try and prove they belong to the top teams in world rugby. Tonga will take this challenge with a smile and a thumping heart. It will be exciting.”

Rugby Canada CEO, Nathan Bombrys added: “As we saw this past weekend at HSBC SVNS, Vancouver is the preeminent rugby city in North America.  We are very excited to see our Canadian national team return to BC Place for an international match against an exciting Japan team. The Pacific Nations Cup provides consistent annual fixtures and quality competition for our men, and we look forward to kicking off the tournament in front of a Canadian crowd in August.”

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finn 14 minutes ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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