The famous Webb Ellis Cup has made the trip to Tashkent for the first time and will be on display for this week’s Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 tournament. The event, which is the first qualifier in the Asia region for Rugby World Cup 2019, will see hosts Uzbekistan battling it out for promotion with United Arab Emirates, Guam and Thailand.
Rugby fans in the land-locked republic will have a unique opportunity to get up close to the iconic trophy as it goes on display before and during the matches at Stadium Dustlik in the Uzbek capital as well as making a number of appearances in schools and public places during its brief but packed visit. On two match days, Wednesday and Saturday, the four teams play semi-finals based on their world rankings with the two winners meeting in the final with promotion to Division 1 at stake.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “The Webb Ellis Cup is an instantly recognisable symbol of our sport and it is important for it to be accessible to rugby fans everywhere. Those who follow the sport in Uzbekistan do so with just as much passion as anywhere else.
“With a very special Rugby World Cup 2015 fresh in our memories, we are excited to be launching the Asian qualification process for Japan 2019. What is special about this process is that there is a genuine and clear pathway for member unions to make it to the tournament and we know that unforgettable moments will be shared by the players and teams who are beginning their Rugby World Cup journey. Ambitious unions can use qualification for rugby's showpiece tournament as something to aim for and, in the years to come, I believe we can expect to see new teams make their Rugby World Cup debuts.
"I can’t say whether Uzbekistan, Thailand, Guam or United Arab Emirates will be one of the teams that makes it all the way to Japan but the point is that they have the chance to do so. Rugby World Cup is not just a tournament of 20 teams but in fact it is designed to include all 103 full member unions. I would like to thank Asia Rugby and the Uzbekistan Rugby Federation (URF) for hosting these matches and for being part of this great tournament.”
URF General Secretary Jasur N Artikov said: “To have the cup in our country for this important Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying tournament is a great honour and a fantastic boost for the game here. Knowing that just a few short months ago, New Zealand captain Richie McCaw lifted the cup as champion of the world, it reminds our players and fans that they are part of something huge. We can see a route from where we are now towards Rugby World Cup qualification and it is such an encouragement for rugby in Uzbekistan and throughout Asia to know the game’s flagship tournament will be coming to our region in 2019.
“We will be using the presence of the cup in Tashkent this week as a way to inspire people to take up rugby and to introduce them to this game and its character-building values. It is my dream that someday the players of the Uzbekistan national team will be the ones to lift the cup as champions of the world.”
Japan Rugby 2019 Chief Executive Akira Shimazu said: “We at the RWC 2019 organising committee and our host cities are very excited with the fact that the Asian qualifying process is starting. Rugby World Cup 2019 will be the first time this tournament has been held in Asia and we will be doing our best to encourage rugby throughout the region.
“RWC 2019 is an opportunity to globalise rugby and push it into new territories. We want to inspire people from all over Asia and the rest of the world to play and follow the game.
“From attending and observing RWC 2015, as well as receiving a full debrief from the organisers, we have learned a lot from their experience and we are excited to be entering a new phase of preparation for what will be Asia’s first Rugby World Cup. We will continue to work hard to make it a ground-breaking tournament of which everyone can be proud.”
With 12 teams having secured their place at Japan 2019 courtesy of finishing in the top three of their respective pools, the remaining eight places will be determined by a process of regional and cross-regional qualifiers and, for the first time, a stand-alone round-robin repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier in 2018. All qualified teams will be known by November 2018. Meanwhile, the pool allocation draw for RWC 2019 will take place in May 2017 in Japan.
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