Asia Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification starts this weekend

Dublin-Ireland, April 12, 2012: The road to Rugby World Cup 2015 in England continues this weekend with Manila providing the backdrop for the the beginning of the Asia qualification process that will deliver at least one team from the region to Rugby’s showcase event. Sri Lanka, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and hosts the Philippines will participate in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Division 1 tournament from April 15-21 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila with the winner being promoted to the HSBC Asian Five Nations proper next year. More importantly, however, that team will still be in the mix for a place at Rugby World Cup 2015.

While there is one direct place available at England 2015 via the Asia qualification process for the winners of the 2014 HSBC Asian Five Nations, there is a second bite of the cherry for the runners-up who will move on to the Repechage. Should an Asian team progress via this pathway to RWC 2015 it will be the first time two representatives from the region have competed at a Rugby World Cup.

These are exciting times for Rugby in Asia with the region preparing to host its first Rugby World Cup in 2019. Present in Manila for the tournament will be Koji Tokumasu, IRB Council Member and General Manager of the Japan 2019 Organising Committee and with him will be the famous Webb Ellis Cup, the iconic symbol of the pinnacle achievement in the Game and of true sporting excellence. This will be the Cup’s first ever trip to the Philippines and it will be available for fans to view and photograph before the match.

Following the first Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifier in Mexico last month, Asia is the second region to begin the process towards the finals in England. That global process involves 80 teams, 184 matches, around 3,000 players across six continents with eight places at RWC 2015 up for grabs. It gives an opportunity and a clear pathway for all IRB’s Member Unions to compete at the highest level as part of IRB’s ongoing vision to grow the Game throughout the world.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “With 60 per cent of the world’s youth and an 18 per cent increase in playing numbers over the last four years, Asia is one of Rugby’s major growth markets. The IRB, working in partnership with ARFU, is investing more than GBP 9 million in Asia between 2009-2012 and is committed to ensuring that more men, women and children have the opportunity to experience and engage with the sport as the region prepares to host its first Rugby World Cup when Japan welcomes the world in 2019.”

“Even though the tournament itself is still three and a half years away, it’s exciting to know that the road to England 2015 is already underway and the world waits to see who will join the 12 automatically qualified teams from the 2011 tournament. In New Zealand last year, we saw many of the teams that did qualify push the top sides all the way so it’s clear the gap is closing and that has to be good for the Game.”

“In particular, Rugby in Asia is booming. There is so much potential for further growth of the Game in this region and with the continent hosting Rugby World Cup in 2019, it is encouraging to see much of that potential already being realised.”

General Manager of Japan 2019 Organising Committee Koji Tokumasu, who will attend the matches in Manila, said: “The Rugby World Cup qualifiers are important as they give all teams a clear pathway and an exact indication of what they need to achieve in order to play at the highest level. I am excited to attend the very first Asian qualification game for RWC 2015 and I am looking forward to watching some good matches in Manila. I’ve no doubt the spectators will enjoy getting a close-up view of the Webb Ellis Cup.

“As Asia looks ahead to Rugby World Cup in 2019, tournaments like the HSBC Asian Five Nations as well as the significant IRB investment, are vital as we seek to develop the Game throughout the continent.”

Paul Vaughan, CEO of the England Rugby 2015 Organising Body, said: “It is fantastic to see another region commence the qualification process. The performances of Japan in recent years and during RWC 2011 highlights the progress and development of Asian Rugby. It is hugely important that the region has a strong representative at RWC 2015, not only for Rugby’s development in Asia, but because the colour and passion that the supporters bring gives another dimension to the festival and atmosphere around the tournament.”

In addition to the on-field action, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) is hosting its annual elite match official seminar in Manila during the week. The workshop, which involves all members of the ARFU A and B referee panels, strives to improve the overall standard of officiating throughout the region ahead of the busiest time of the year for international Rugby in Asia.

The teams:

Sri Lanka The island nation of Sri Lanka has a long and rich Rugby history with a vibrant and well-supported club structure and, as the number-one seeds in this division, they will be keen to show that they can match that pedigree with results on the field. Having been demoted from the Top Five in 2011, a quick return to that level will be the only acceptable outcome for their passionate fans. With former England international Phil Greening in place as head coach as well as a highly motivated playing group, it will take a tough side to stop them.

Singapore Singapore last tasted life at the top of Asian Rugby in 2009, and will be keen to get back into that elite company. But the Rugby Lions will be hard-pressed as they come up against three difficult opponents in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei. They came close last year, losing to South Korea 58-19 in the promotion play-off so it may be that they provide Sri Lanka with their sternest test.

Philippines Rugby in the Philippines has been going from strength to strength as the national team moves up the grades. Indeed, statistically they are most successful team in the Asian Five Nations next to Japan having only lost one match in the past four years. Coaches Expo Mejia and Jared Hodges will be eager to continue that meteoric rise as his team hunt for promotion into the Top Five for 2013.

Chinese Taipei Relegated to Division Two of the HSBC Asian Five Nations in 2010, Chinese Taipei fought back and won promotion last year with a new brood of young players coming to the fore. Those players will be emboldened by their experiences and winning mentality but they will face a tough early test taking on favourites Sri Lanka in the opening game, which will be the very first Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying match in the Asia Region.

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