July internationals are bringing several key fixtures for teams involved in the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification process in Oceania, Africa, Europe and South America.
In New Zealand, the Oceania 1 Play-off will be contested by Samoa and Tonga over two legs on neutral soil on 10 July in Auckland and 17 July in Hamilton to determine the team to join England, Japan, Argentina and the Americas 2 qualifier in Pool D in France.
Tonga have only failed to compete at a Rugby World Cup once, in 1991, while Samoa have been ever-presents since failing to secure an invitation to the inaugural tournament in 1987.
With three wins apiece and a draw between them in the last decade, it promises to be a closely fought play-off.
The two teams are very close in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings, and Samoa (ranked 14) – regarded as the home team for the first leg – can climb above Tonga (ranked 13) with a victory on Saturday.
The team failing to qualify in the Oceania 1 Play-off will go on to play the Cook Island in the Asia/Pacific Qualifier on 24 July in Pukekohe, New Zealand.
The winner of this match will then take on the newly-crowned Asia Rugby Championship 2021 champions, with Hong Kong, Korea and Malaysia the sides in contention for that title, for the Asia/Pacific 1 berth in Pool B.
It will also be a busy weekend of matches in the Rugby Africa Cup 2021 with Kenya facing a must-win match with Zambia to keep alive their hopes of a first Rugby World Cup appearance after a surprise 20-19 loss to Senegal a week ago.
Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Tunisia and Uganda are also in action with the top two teams from each pool progressing to the knockout stages in 2022 which will determine the Africa 1 qualifier for France 2023.
Meanwhile, the latest match in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 will see Netherlands host Portugal in Amsterdam with both sides eager for victory. The top two teams across the 2021 and 2022 Championships will qualify for RWC 2023 as Europe 1 and Europe 2, while the third best team in the region will enter the Final Qualification Tournament.
The remaining RWC 2023 qualifier takes place in South America where Brazil meet Chile in the opening match of the SAR 3 Naciones in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo on Sunday.
Both teams will be eager for a morale-boosting victory before playing Uruguay in the round robin tournament, the winner of which will face either Canada or USA in the Americas 1 Play-off.
World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont said:“The qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2023 is now well underway in our regions and the Oceania 1 Play-Off is an exciting milestone on the road to France 2023 for fans and teams alike.
The Pacific Islands continue to influence our sport and the global game with their brand of rugby and history and World Rugby will keep on providing support through grants and high-performance programmes to help them perform at their best. On behalf of World Rugby, I wish the best of luck to all teams in contention.”