The International Rugby Board (IRB) has confirmed the introduction of a major international Tournament to the Rugby calendar in April, the HSBC Asian Five Nations. The IRB-supported competition, which will involve Japan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Korea and the Arabian Gulf, will play an important role in the ongoing development of the Game across the Region.

The IRB is committed to increasing global playing standards and the Tournament, which has received funding in the form of a US$500,000 IRB grant, represents the pinnacle of a complete restructuring of competition structures in Asia by the Region’s governing body, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU).

“The Asian Five Nations will be the flagship Tournament for Asia, serving to promote and raise awareness of the Game in the Region at all levels, while also providing a competitive competition and development structure for all participating Unions. It is certainly an exciting development for the Game in a Region that offers significant potential for growth,” said IRB Head of Rugby Services Mark Egan.

“In addition to providing annual competition for each Union, the Tournament will serve to provide the platform as an ongoing development tool for players, officials and administrators with an ultimate goal of providing a pathway for entry into world class competitions such as Rugby World Cup.”

ARFU Honorary Secretary General Ross Mitchell said that the new Asian Five Nations is an exciting development for the Game in Asia. “The Tournament is vital for the development and expansion of Rugby throughout Asia and will give our elite players the chance to perform in front of a significantly expanded TV audience, whilst providing a platform for development at all other levels.”

The Tournament will feature a round robin format with Test matches held on five consecutive weekends throughout April and May 2008. A strong commercial programme, including a major sponsor and television coverage, has also been confirmed.

“The ARFU has secured a significant title sponsorship deal with HSBC for the Tournament, which underlines the increasing appetite for the Game in Asia. Enhanced television deals for the Asian market was a feature of record Rugby World Cup broadcast coverage and comprehensive coverage of the Asian Five Nations on television will ensure continued widespread exposure across Asia and into IRB targeted growth markets such as China and India,” added Egan.

The Asian Five Nations Tournament is the pinnacle of four newly formed tiers of elite competition across all 25 Asian Rugby Unions with promotion and relegation opportunities between divisions for all participating teams. The last placed team in the Asian Five Nations in 2008 will be relegated to the 2009 Division One competition and the top team in Division One will gain promotion to the Asian Five Nations. The promotion and relegation policy will also be in effect for the Division One and Division Two competitions, guaranteeing an opportunity for all Unions to advance on the world stage.

This year’s Division One competition will be played amongst China, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Division Two competition will be contested by India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand. Four regional competitions will also be played in 2008. The first is in Qatar and features Macau, Mongolia and Qatar; the second Tournament will be held in Guam between Brunei, Guam and the Philippines; the third Tournament is in Indonesia and features Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos; Kyrgyzstan hosts the final regional competition with Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Selected matches will also double as Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifiers.

The Full Tournament schedule will be announced shortly.