The International Rugby Board (IRB) has confirmed that New Zealand Maori will replace the Junior All Blacks in the 2008 IRB Pacific Nations Cup.

The move comes as a result of a NZRU review of the organisation's High Performance Strategy and will see the Maori compete in the Tournament alongside Test teams from Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga and the Australia A side. The decision also means that New Zealand Maori will not compete in the 2008 Barclays Churchill Cup.

"The Junior All Blacks set the benchmark in the first two IRB Pacific Nations Cup Tournaments, winning in 2006 and 2007," said IRB Head of Rugby Services, Mark Egan. "However, the IRB understands the NZRU's decision to replace the Junior All Blacks with the New Zealand Maori and is delighted that a team with such a global reputation will be joining the Tournament in 2008."

The New Zealand Maori team has been tremendously successful in recent years, winning the Barclays Churchill Cup twice in the past three years and has an excellent reputation of developing young talent for the Test arena. The inclusion of New Zealand Maori will enhance the IRB Pacific Nations Cup's highly competitive format. The IRB and the Pacific Rugby community looks forward to what promises to be a tremendously competitive 2008 Tournament," added Egan.

NZRU Professional Rugby Manager Neil Sorensen said a review of the organisation's High Performance Strategy had identified the need for a change in focus for both the Junior All Blacks and New Zealand Maori in 2008.

"The review has identified the need for New Zealand Maori to play more matches at home and by competing in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup, we will achieve this," he said.

"The New Zealand Maori game against the touring British and Irish Lions in 2005 was a fantastic occasion as was the team's match against Fiji in Suva that year. We have no doubt that playing in New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands will further enhance New Zealand Maori's iconic status," added Sorenson.

The New Zealand Maori participated in the Barclays Churchill Cup in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Terry Burwell, Tournament Director of the Barclays Churchill Cup said: "The Maori have been a great asset to the Barclays Churchill Cup over the last few years and we are grateful for their contribution to the growth of Rugby in North America.

"I wish them every success going forward in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup. We are currently reviewing a number of potential replacement participants for the
Barclays Churchill Cup and will make an announcement shortly."

Funded as a key Tournament initiative of the IRB's unprecedented three-year US$50 million global strategic investment programme, the IRB Pacific Nations Cup made its debut in 2006 and has grown to be an important Tournament for the six competing Unions. The competition provides the Test teams of Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga with an unprecedented level of international competition.

The IRB will announce the full schedule for the 2008 IRB Pacific Nations Cup in due course.