World Rugby defends Pacific involvement in new women's competition

World Rugby has defended the opportunities available to Pacific Island nations in a new fifteen-a-side global competition.

WXV is a three-tier tournament beginning in 2023 that aims to boost depth ahead of an expanded 16-team World Cup in 2025.

Fiji Rugby CEO John O'Connor said they were excited for the Fijiana to play more international matches.

"Where we are in the competition will depend mostly on how we perform in the World Cup. It's a blessing the World Cup has been moved to 2022," he said.

"It gives the girls more preparation time and hopefully borders will open up so we can have some good preparation warm-up matches leading up to the World Cup and the girls and Fiji Rugby and likewise the management of the team are excited because it's a great opportunity."

"By participating in such competition it's more likely that our girls will be the first team to bring home one of the World Cup trophies."

The top tier (WXV 1) has no relegation in the first two years and includes three teams from the European Six Nations and the top three from a cross-regional tournament featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA.

The second tier (WXV 2) includes the fourth-placed team from the cross-regional tournament, two Six Nations teams and one each from Asia, Africa and Oceania, likely to be Fiji or Samoa.

But the Pacific does not feature in the third tier (WXV 3), which includes two teams from Europe, one from Asia and a playoff winner from Africa or South America.

World Rugby General Manager of Women's Rugby, Katie Sadleir, said the Pacific had an important role to play in the growth of the women's game.

"Rugby is a game that is absolutely embraced in the Pacific region, the women enjoy it. I know both New Zealand and Australia have huge programmes that they access government funding through Ministry of Foreign Affairs to actually assist the pacific regions to develop their programmes within, she said.

"We're looking at secondary schools tournaments in the Pacific region but it is definitely growing."

World Rugby said three teams from Oceania would feature in the inaugural WXV, making it one of the highest represented regions in the competition.

John O'Connor believed a strong World Cup performance could lead to a shake-up of the international women's game, much like when Argentian made the semi finals of the men's event in 2007.

"We know there is opportunity for us in tier two level but the girls are confident to go in the World Cup and make a mark and see what happens from there," he said.

"But I know if we are not in the tier two, in tier three, there should be a pathway that will allow us to move up, The satisfying thing is there is a promotion relegation up the two tiers and so forth so there should be opportunities for moving if we perform well."

The bottom placed team in WXV 3 would play the next best ranked team in the world for a place in the following year's competition, which was another avenue for teams from Oceania to be included.

Meanwhile Fiji backed the decision to delay the World Cup by 12 months because of the global pandemic.

"Some of the girls who have been part of the Fijiana for the last few years and took a leading role in qualification they were hoping to hang their boots after the World Cup, O'Connor explained.

"For them it was a bit of a disappointment but if they are committed there's another year to go. They'll just have to keep lacing on their boots and do their best, but for the young up and coming players it's a great opportunity to grow and develop."