The head of World Rugby says there is “no question of closing out” Pacific Island teams from a proposed new world league.
In an interview at the weekend, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, said Pacific Island teams would not be excluded but would be judged by on-field success alone.
“Participation would be merit-based, based on rankings at an agreed time,” he told Agence France Presse (AFP).
“There is no question of closing out the Pacific Islands as we would be adding two more emerging unions to the top table whilst financing a second tier competition with all the benefits that would bring to the players.”
The story broke last week that Fiji, Tonga and Samoa could be excluded from a new world format but a dozen sides from the European Six Nations, the Rugby Championship of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina, as well as Japan and the USA would participate.
The reported plan ruled out promotion and relegation for at least 10 seasons, meaning the Pacific Islands’ countries as well as other rising nations such as Georgia, would have no chance to win a place later.
In a further statement, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Contrary to reports, no decisions have been made. This is an ongoing and complex process with multiple stakeholders, some with differing views.
“Only by working together in the interests of the global game can we achieve something truly impactful in this important area for rugby’s future global growth. I look forward to a constructive debate with my colleagues and productive outcomes.”
Beaumont has called an urgent meeting of rugby bosses in Dublin on 14 March, including officials from Fiji to discuss the new league.
Earlier, Gosper made a series of tweets to try to defuse some of the criticism of the league, saying that player welfare was a concern.
“For instance, there was talk of playing five weeks in a row in November, but earlier this week we were talking about a fallow period when 10 of the 12 teams would stop playing.
“In terms of the impact on players, at the moment test teams play an average of 12 games a year, this format would have them playing 11 matches a year and only extra matches if they reach the semifinals and the final.”
He also said British and Irish Lions tours, held every four years, would not be affected and he believed the four yearly Rugby World Cup would be improved.
“Lions tours would not be affected as we plan for a lighter programme in those years; the spotlight would be firmly on the Lions.”
“Analysis confirms a more competitive international game, and therefore Rugby World Cup, would heighten the possibility of expanding the tournament to 24 teams.
“It certainly would not erode the special and unique atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup and it could also act as a qualification vehicle.”
(Source:Radio New Zealand)