Competitions such as the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup, the World Rugby Nations Cup and the World Rugby Tbilisi Cup all played a key role in helping the tier two nations to narrow the gap between themselves and their more established rivals at Rugby World Cup 2015 

WORLD RUGBY PACIFIC NATIONS CUP 2015 

WINNERS: Fiji
RUNNERS-UP: Samoa

WHEN: 18 July–3 August

WHERE: Fiji, Canada and USA

FINAL STANDINGS: 1. Fiji 2. Samoa 3. Tonga 4. Japan 5. USA 6. Canada

LEADING POINTS SCORER: Kurt Morath (Tonga), 49

TOP TRY SCORER: Leone Nakarawa (Fiji), Fetu'u Vainikolo (Tonga), Sonatane Takulua (Tonga) – all four tries.

FIRST WIN IN FIVE
Fiji beat Samoa for the first time in five attempts, after they'd drawn 30-30 in the pool stages of the tournament, when they met in the final of the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup in Burnaby, Canada. In becoming outright champions for the second time, Fiji achieved their pre-tournament goal of moving back into the top 10 of the World Rugby Rankings. Quick-silver second-row Leone Nakarawa capped a fine tournament with two tries in the 39-29 victory in the final over Samoa.

FAMILY AFFAIR
Number eight Vavae Tuilagi became the sixth of the family’s rugby-playing sons to play international rugby when he lined up alongside elder sibling Alesana Tuilagi in Samoa’s opening game against USA at the Avaya Stadium, San Jose. Samoa maintained their tradition of narrow wins against the Eagles with a 21-16 victory.

NORTH AMERICAN PRIDE
Newly-qualified Eagle AJ MacGinty enjoyed a fine first tournament as an international with a 44-point haul – only five short of top scorer Kurt Morath. The Irish-born player’s 80th-minute drop goal saw the USA pip neighbours Canada in the fifth place play-off. He went on to play an important role in USA's Rugby World Cup campaign.

THEY SAID
“All credit to Fiji they wanted the win more than us, the ball bounced their way and they took their chances,” Samoa head coach Stephen Betham, speaking after his side’s loss to their great rivals in the final.

WORLD RUGBY PACIFIC CHALLENGE 2015

WINNERS: Argentina Pampas
RUNNERS-UP: Fiji Warriors

WHEN: 10-23 March

WHERE: Suva, Fiji

FINAL STANDINGS: 1. Argentina Pampas 2. Fiji Warriors 3. Canada A 4. Samoa A 5. Tonga A 6. Junior Japan

LEADING POINTS SCORER: Serupepeli Vularika (Fiji Warriors), 46

LEADING TRY SCORER: Manuel Montero (Argentina Pampas), four

TWO-POINTERS
The new-look, newly-named competition’s competitiveness was highlighted by a third of the 12 matches finishing with just two points separating the teams. Previously known as the Pacific Rugby Cup and held in a variety of locations, the 2015 edition welcomed Canada A for the first time and took place in one venue in Fiji.

MAN-POWER
Defending champions the Argentina Pampas never looked back once Manuel Montero’s brace had helped them to a 22-20 victory against hosts Fiji Warriors in their opening game. Montero finished the tournament as top try scorer with four although he drew a blank in the 17-9 win against the Warriors in the final.

IN MEMORADUM
All six teams wore black armbands on finals day in memory of Fiji prop Bele Tabalala who passed away during the tournament.

GROWING PAINS
Junior Japan took a couple of heavy defeats to Canada A, Fiji Warriors and Tonga A on the chin before bouncing back with a much better showing in the fifth place play-off against Tonga A, scoring four tries and conceding seven in a 43-24 defeat.

THEY SAID
“It was very tough and very close for the whole 80 minutes and we are happy for the win. We wanted to come here to develop our team and that is what we have done.” - Pampas captain González Iglesias.

WORLD RUGBY NATIONS CUP 2015

WINNERS: Romania
RUNNERS-UP: Argentina Jaguars

WHEN: 12-21 June

WHERE: Bucharest, Romania

FINAL STANDINGS: 1. Romania 2. Argentina Jaguars 3. Spain 4. Namibia

LEADING POINTS SCORER: Florin Vlaicu (Romania), 42

TOP TRY SCORER: Florin Surugiu, Mihai Macovei, Viorel Lucaci (all Romania) - two apiece

MILESTONE REACHED
2015 saw the World Rugby Nations Cup celebrate its 10th anniversary. Argentina A were the inaugural winners when the competition was launched in Lisbon in 2006. Since then the last nine have been held in the Romanian capital of Bucharest with the hosts winning three of the last four titles.

GOING WITH THE FLO
While Romanian centre Florin Vlaicu finished the tournament as top points scorer with 42 – three times more than his nearest rival, it was also a memorable nine days for namesake Florin Surugiu, who marked his 50th cap with the final try – and his second in as many games in the 23-0 title-deciding victory against Argentina Jaguars.

THE FINAL ACT 
The tournament proved to be Danie Vermeulen’s last act as Namibia coach as he resigned upon returning home with an unwanted record of scoring the fewest points (16) in Nations Cup history. Technical advisor Phil Davies stepped in to take the Welwitschias through to their best ever Rugby World Cup record.

THEY SAID
"This tournament has offered us a very good opportunity to prepare for the World Cup and among many positive aspects, we should be pleased with the fact that we’ve played three consecutive games without conceding a try.” – Romania captain Mihai Macovei.

WORLD RUGBY TBILISI CUP 2015

WINNERS: Emerging Ireland
RUNNERS-UP: Emerging Italy

 

WHEN: 13-21 June

WHERE: Georgia

FINAL STANDINGS: 1. Emerging Ireland 2. Emerging Italy 3. Georgia 4. Uruguay

LEADING POINTS SCORER: Carlo Canna, Emerging Italy (29 points)

LEADING TRY SCORER: Andrew Conway (Emerging Ireland), three

TREBLE CHANCE
Winger Andrew Conway scored a try in each of his three appearances to match his treble for Emerging Ireland in the 2014 World Rugby Nations Cup-winning campaign. Conway got off to a flying start when he dotted down in the first half of the 25-0 win over Emerging Italy and he then followed up with scores against Uruguay and Georgia. It wasn't enough, however, to force his way into Joe Schmidt's Rugby World Cup squad.

CARLO DROPS BY
Young fly-half Carlo Canna was one player who did earn a RWC 2015 call-up by Italy on the back of his performances at the Tbilisi Cup. Canna was successful with all nine of his attempts from the kicking tee and weighed in with two drop goals, becoming the first player to kick more than one in the tournament’s short history.

SHATTERED DREAMS
Emerging Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock suffered a broken arm in their victory over Uruguay in round two that ended his hopes of making Ireland’s RWC 2015 squad. He would ultimately get a call-up to replace the injured Peter O’Mahony ahead of the quarter-final.

YELLOW IS THE COLOUR
Fourteen yellow cards were handed out in 2015 – more than in the two previous editions put together. Hosts Georgia were the worst offenders with five, three of them coming in their 19-10 win against Uruguay.

THEY SAID
“We came here with a group of young talented players and they're delighted to have won the tournament." Emerging Ireland head coach Allen Clarke.