After the official World Rugby declaration on May 10, an affirmed International Test match schedule is now settled after New Zealand’s fixture list was announced to widespread approval.
With July set to be a bumper schedule for all Tier one nations, the recognition for Pacific Islands nations, Rugby Europe teams, and for the two major North American countries, it all points towards a bright future for the game. It will see rugby played from Eastern Europe to Africa, and with 25 of the 30 top-ranked sides represented.
Looking to fill their full complement of tests; due to Italy not legitimately able to travel abroad. To the satisfaction of many across the South Pacific, the positive reinforcement of the two Pacific nations, with the conditional Super Rugby licenses held by Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua the parable of awarding a Test to Tonga as well as two matches against Fiji, stands well in the positive embracement of those franchises.
When added to Georgia visiting South Africa; prior to the British and Irish Lions tour, the improved opportunities for Tier Two nations bodes well in the current World Cup cycle. With the remaining RWC2023 qualification fixtures are included in the July test window, World Rugby can certainly see an uptake of their support for the Developing Nations program, and of a more inclusive International test match schedule.
• Twenty-five of the top 30 ranked unions to play tests in the July window 📆
• The UK and Ireland set to host a number of nations, while New Zealand becomes Pacific hub 🌍
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) May 10, 2021
International Test match schedule confirmed, with New Zealand v Tonga/Fiji (x2)
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cause disruption, the underpinning principle for the schedule was the fixtures agreed in San Francisco in 2017. Where it was not possible or practical to honour that schedule, the hosting rights were reversed with key arrangements met. Where this contingency has not been possible for COVID-19 reasons, World Rugby has facilitated discussions to confirm an alternative schedule for teams consisting of a minimum of two matches for unions who sought replacement fixtures.
This means that Argentina, Japan, USA, and Canada will now travel to the UK and Ireland, New Zealand will host tests against Fiji, and Georgia travels to South Africa. The Samoa versus Tonga Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifier will also be hosted over two legs in New Zealand, creating a Pacific hub in the country across the July window.
Note: included in the announcement that the New Zealand All Blacks will play Tonga on Saturday 3 July at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, for the first time in what will be a historic Test at the traditionally ‘rugby league cauldron’. The match is also a double-header with the Māori All Blacks playing Manu Samoa beforehand.
The unofficial start of the window is a rare fixture in the United Kingdom for the British and Irish Lions. They play a warm-up game against Japan that will herald a return to rugby for fans in Europe. Outside the sanctioned window, Japan will take great pride in the occasion, and it begins a whirlwind of games that lead into the full calendar [see link].
From there, sides including New Zealand take on their respective opponents. One of the key series will be Australia hosting France. It sees the team on the up – France – meet a side that did neither in 2020. The Wallabies will find this test series a key step on their path forwards under head coach Dave Rennie. Though if Les Bleus have their way, the Aussie men will feel a rebuttal from the disappointment of not claiming the Six Nations Championship.
🔵⚪🔴 VIVE LA RENAISSANCE! The French are back on Australian soil to take on our Wallabies for a blockbuster three-match Test Series this July!
📅 Wed 7 July | @SCG, Sydney
📅 Tue 13 July | @AAMIPark, Melbourne
📅 Sat 17 July | @Suncorp Stadium
🎫 Presale tickets from @Telstra pic.twitter.com/SLIKc75adJ
— Wallabies (@wallabies) May 6, 2021
France’s 6 Nations partners get to participate, even though the leading players will be represented in the Lions 2021 Series. It means tests for Latin and North American opposition. This will be a valuable experience for many second-tier players. And that will be where the long term benefits of this year’s International test match schedule will bring rewards. The likes of Tonga and Fiji will each hold instantaneous hopes of reward.
Fiji will challenge the All Blacks for the first time since 2011. And in the third test of New Zealand’s fixture list, Tonga plays Samoa in a RWC2023 qualifying match. The winner will be on the road to France, and it will bring a huge crowd to Hamilton in what is going to be as popular as the Springboks v Lions series will be.
So plenty to look ahead to. With as much as 18 hours of continuous International rugby planned for dates like July 10 and 17, it will satisfy every taste and global rugby fan.
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