Rugby World Cup bosses outline their commitment to developing tier-two nations after impressing in France… with more high quality fixtures and a new tournament

Rugby World Cup bosses have declared a commitment to giving the sport’s developing nations greater opportunity to continue their development after they impressed in France.

The treatment of tier-two countries remains one of rugby’s biggest talking points, especially after Portugal sealed a first win on the biggest stage with a famous downing of Fiji.

From 2026, the introduction of a Nations Championship made up of the six teams from the Six Nations as well as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina plus two others will see countries such as Tonga, Samoa, Portugal and Georgia shut out until promotion and relegation is introduced in 2030.

But World Rugby have insisted giving such countries more games against the best teams on the planet is ‘top of our agenda’ with further announcements to come.

‘I want to assure everyone that the likes of Portugal, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, Chile and Georgia may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten,’ said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont after the end of the pool stages in France. 

Portugal sealed a first Rugby World Cup win by downing Fiji 24-23 in Toulouse last week

‘We must, and will, do everything we can to provide greater certainty and opportunity of regular high-level competition for these teams.

‘They are central to our discussions on a reimagined international calendar that will benefit the many, not the few. This, in turn, will enable us to arrive at Rugby World Cup 2031 in USA anticipating a genuinely competitive and unpredictable World Cup which is great.’

Portugal captured the hearts and minds of rugby fans in France, their attacking style of play causing Wales and Australia problems in Pool C. Portugal also drew with Georgia. But it was their remarkable, thrilling win over Fiji which reignited the debate about how many high quality games tier-two countries will be given to continue their progression moving forward.

Uruguay also impressed in France while Samoa gave England a real scare, only losing by a point.

Despite losing to Portugal, Fiji have made this weekend’s quarter-finals for only the third time in their history. They will face England in Marseille on Sunday.

Michel Poussau, the World Cup’s tournament director, said: ‘We must and will as World Rugby provide them (tier-two countries) with greater certainty and opportunity.

‘We at World Rugby are committed to reducing the gap (between tier two and tier one) and everything we are doing is with that in mind. We’ve seen some great performances, one of the best examples being Portugal. Everything we are doing is about reducing that gap.’

World Rugby and the game’s individual unions remain locked in talks over rugby’s future calendar and it is likely a tournament for countries below the Nations Championship will soon be confirmed. World Rugby added ‘there is a commitment in our game to get this right’ and reiterated they are supporting developing teams in a number of different ways off the field.

Jacques Rivoal, president of the 2023 World Cup, described Portugal’s win over Fiji as ‘historic.’ Rivoal added: ‘We wanted this World Cup to be a global celebration and not elitist.’

Playing more regular games against the teams from the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship is the only way tier-two countries can continue to get better. That much is undeniable.

Samoa gave England a real scare, only losing by a point in their final Pool D encounter

Samoa gave England a real scare, only losing by a point in their final Pool D encounter

The head coaches of Portugal, Samoa, Fiji, Japan and Georgia have all argued for that to be the case and the ball is now in World Rugby’s court to back up their words with meaningful action.

Meanwhile, the four referees for this weekend’s mouthwatering quarter-finals have been confirmed.

England’s last-eight clash with Fiji will be refereed by France’s Mathieu Raynal. South Africa’s Jaco Peyper will take charge of the other game in Marseille when Wales face Argentina on Saturday. In Paris, Wayne Barnes will be the man in the middle for Ireland against New Zealand on Saturday night. Ben O’Keeffe will referee France against South Africa 24 hours later.

Georgia have denied reports they have sacked head coach Levan Maisashvili but will undertake a full review of their World Cup campaign which saw them fail to win a game.