The 2018 Rugby Africa Gold Cup, which doubles as a Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification tournament, begins on Saturday as the top six teams in Africa, aside from South Africa, battle it out for a place at the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
The Rugby Africa Gold Cup will be played in a round-robin format across seven match days between 16 June and 18 August 2018. It features Africa’s top six nations that have not already qualified for the Rugby World Cup 2019 with Namibia the highest ranked team at 24 in the current World Rugby rankings, followed by Kenya (28), Uganda (37), Morocco (38), Tunisia (42), and Zimbabwe (44).
The competition will get under way on 16 June as Zimbabwe host Morocco at Harare Sports Club, while Namibia face Uganda at Hage Geingob Stadium in Windhoek. The tournament will reach its exciting conclusion when the final round of matches is played on 18 August.
The winner of the competition will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan as Africa 1, joining reigning champions New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the repechage winner in Pool B. The Rugby Africa Gold Cup runner-up will go straight to the four-team repechage tournament in November 2018.
The winners will also be the first recipients of the newly created perpetual trophy, which was unveiled at the AIPS congress in Brussels in May and is designed to embody rugby’s values of Integrity, Respect, Solidarity, Passion and Discipline.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We are looking forward to witnessing a very high quality and extremely competitive 2018 Rugby Africa Gold Cup as the six nations involved compete for the right to qualify for what is shaping up to be a fantastic Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
“There has never been a more exciting time for rugby in Africa with ten African nations currently placed in the top-50 of the world rankings and more women and men, girls and boys, playing the sport than ever before. The players are inspirational role models for the next generations of young Africans who are discovering the sport and I wish the best of luck to all the competing teams.”
Rugby is the fastest growing sport in Africa and has seen record participation growth and fan engagement over the last five years. Since 2002 the number of African nations playing rugby has risen from six to 38, reflecting the excellent development work that has been undertaken across the region and the appetite for a sport that continues to reach, engage and inspire young people.
As part of the global Get Into Rugby development programme, 401,017 participants, supported by 4,400 coaches, were introduced to rugby across Africa in 2017, up five per cent on 2016, as the sport continues to go from strength to strength.
Pleasingly, 45 per cent of all Get Into Rugby participants in the Rugby Africa region were female and the southern and eastern regions of the continent, in particular, experienced massive growth among pre-teenage girls and boys with Kenya and South Africa among the top 10 nations globally.
Fans can follow the Rugby Africa Gold Cup action by checking World Rugby’s ‘where to watch’ guide here.