Friday, May 11, 2012

USA and Canada close to joining Pacific Nations Cup

Japan celebrate winning 2011 Pacific Nations Cup
As reported back in January, the Tier Two rugby nations are not overly happy with the global rugby order and are seeking significant changes to have a solid and competitive international program. The President of the Georgia Rugby Union, Gia Niijharadze had made reference to a meeting to involve rugby´s second tier nations - Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Tonga and the United States of America with the objective being to establish a competition involving these sides and for the competition to start in 2013. The meeting indeed was held, taking place in las Vegas, Nevada in February.  

The chances of such a competition getting the green light from the IRB remain unknown but there is no doubt that chances will be made, and in fact, some already have been. The CEO of USA Rugby, Nigel Melville outlined the changes for the USA mens team on his personal website this past weekend. It followed a weekend of negotiations with union members representing the Pacific Islands, Japan and the IRB and had the specific purpose of attempting to create a new structure for the Pacific Nations Cup for the years of 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Pacific Nations Cup started in 2006, replacing the Pacific Tri Nations which featured Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Japan entered in 2006 as did the Junior All Blacks and Australia A entered in 2007. Neither of the A teams from Oceania´s Tier One sides compete any longer in the competition due to economic cut-backs but this is a good thing for Second Tier rugby as the void left by these teams would be much be utilized by a test playing team such as the USA Eagles and Canada.

Melville pointed out that the serious lack of regular international competition of real meaning is the biggest challenge to USA Rugby. Without changes being made it is a highly complicated road to see the USA Eagles become more competitive. He contends that the USA want to play against Tier One teams but its not easy to secure matches given the clear preference of playing against other Tier One sides due to the higher commercial value on offer. That being said, Melville also acknowledges the comparable advantage of the USA touring Europe to face Tier Two sides rather than Tier One sides. The November 2010 tour being such an example when the USA played Georgia and Portugal. Facing these teams as well as Romania, Russia and Spain is certainly the right direction for November tours. 

The USA have the international windows of June and November to field its strongest players and this is the focus with Melville looking to maximize these slots to the advantage of the USA Eagles. With neighbours, Canada being in precisely the same situation and the changes that have seen the Churchill Cup axed will be felt next month with both Canada and the USA hosting Georgia and Italy as well as playing each other. This is an ideal fixture list for both teams and it will be replicated in 2013 and 2014 with Ireland and Scotland to tour North America.

The discussions surrounding North American participation in the Pacific Nations Cup have taken the direction of Europe. While the first tier play in the Six Nations, the second play in the European Nations Cup, a FIRA tournament involving six teams taking place at the same time as the Six Nations, but spread of two years to have home and away matches. Melville pointed out that such a model looms as the way forward for the Second Tier outside of Europe. As such, Canada and the USA would like to be included in an expanded Pacific Nations Cup to play with matches against Fiji, Japan Samoa and Tonga serving the interests of not only the North Americans but also the four existing sides.

To ensure the competition can be as successful as it ought to be it will take place in June and this is where the biggest challenge lies for the teams. The proposal that the IRB is currently evaluating is for the USA and Canada to have one home test per year against a Tier One side (with Ireland and Scotland already locked in for 2013 and 2014) in June and matches against Canada plus the four Pacific Nations Cup teams. November tours will not be altered with matches to be played against teams from the European Nations Cup.

As such a sample schedule for 2013 could well be similar to the following:

Saturday June 8 USA vs Japan (Pacific Nations Cup)
Saturday June 15 USA vs Ireland
Friday June 21 USA vs Tonga (Pacific Nations Cup)
Wednesday June 26 Fiji vs USA (Pacific Nations Cup)
Sunday June 30 Samoa vs USA (Pacific Nations Cup)

Saturday July 13 USA vs Canada (Pacific Nations Cup + World Cup Qualifier)
Saturday July 20 Canada vs USA (Pacific Nations Cup + World Cup Qualifier)

Saturday November 9  Spain vs USA
Saturday November 16 Romania vs USA
Saturday November 23 Russia vs USA
Saturday November 30 Georgia vs USA

Based on: Nigel Melville

No comments:

Post a Comment