Pacific Island teams won or drew each of the weekend's IRB Pacific Rugby Cup matches in Australia, helping validate the tournament's new format.
'A' teams from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga are playing away games against Super Rugby development sides in Australia and then New Zealand, before heading to Fiji for a final round robin intended to crown the 'core' champion. The 21-game slate has drawn plaudits for addressing both competitive and commercial objectives.
'It has suddenly become a very good development tournament for the PI [Pacific Island] unions, significantly better than before,' said a former director of one of the unions. 'It was clear in 2006 that the Pacific Rugby Cup was costing way too much compared with the benefits received, and that a different format was required. It’s taken five years to change.'
The new approach may offer some hope for the Americas Rugby Championship and representative play in the US.
For international hopefuls, there have been fewer and fewer matches since the board of directors allowed the Inter-Territorial Tournament to lapse. Last fall's ARC squad essentially comprised domestic-based internationals, and preseason Eagle camps -- yet to be scheduled this season -- have become the next step from senior club play.
Like the PRC, the ARC was devised by the IRB as a 'cross border' tournament with start-from-scratch franchises which were to sell minority stakes to commercial investors. Originally called the North American 4, it promptly, predictably ran into any number of problems.
The 2009 edition gained notoriety when Canada's representation expanded to four provinces, while the USA's shrunk to one with Argentina simultaneously joining the fold. (Thus the name change.) Last year the competition moved to Mendoza; however, with the Argentines set to join the Southern hemisphere's SANZAR after the 2011 World Cup, however, the ARC's future is in doubt.
So too is America's test schedule in flux. This summer's Churchill Cup, sited in England, will be the last. Beginning next June, some of Europe's countries are to visit the Americas. But the history of 'Tier 1' nations honoring IRB 'master schedule' commitments in North America is dubious. (At least the Can-Am rivalry is to be resumed. 2010 marked the first break since the series began in 1977.)
Six years after Dublin began its investment program, and five since Kevin Roberts took over promising to professionalize US internationals, American representative play looks to be more uncertain than any other time since rugby went pro in 1995.
Still more irony: The Pacific Island unions, America's former Pacific Rim partners, also are wondering about their test schedule.
'As for the Pacific Nations Cup, it’s now just the three PI teams plus Japan, so not much different to the old days [of the Pacific Rim Championship] before IRB became involved (and took all the rights),' the former director observed. 'Island teams no longer own any home games, and no Northern teams have toured this way since 2003.'