irb.com and James Mortimer 14.Dec.2012Getty Images
Eight Unions will compete in the IRB-funded Oceania Cup for the right to meet Fiji in a play-off that will determine who will join Pool A for Rugby's showcase event alongside Australia, hosts England, Wales and the Repechage winner.
The Oceania Cup competing Unions are American Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis & Futuna and the competition dates will be confirmed in due course.
With Samoa the second seed in Pool B and Tonga the third seed in Pool C, the 2015 event will see the three Pacific Island nations drawn in separate pools for the first time since RWC 2003, an exciting prospect for Pacific Island Rugby.
Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "These are exciting times for Oceania and Pacific Island Rugby. With Samoa and Tonga recording excellent victories over top tier opposition in November, the Pacific Island nations are building well for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England."
"The IRB is committed to ongoing support of Pacific Island Rugby through investment in tournaments such as the Oceania Cup, administration and high performance support. The Oceania Cup is always fiercely competitive and it will be fascinating to see who can claim the silverware and keep their Rugby World Cup 2015 dream alive."
"The Pacific Islands have such a strong affiliation with Rugby World Cup, delivering some of the most memorable performances in the history of the competition with Tonga defeating France in 2011, Fiji making the quarter-finals in 2007 and Samoa defeating Wales in 1991 and 1999. With both Samoa and Tonga having enjoyed strong November campaigns and Fiji building towards 2015, it will be fascinating to see their progress as we near England 2015."
"The road to England 2015 has already delivered excitement and drama in equal measure and as we approach the 1,000 days to go milestone, we look forward to an event that is on track to capture the imagination of people the length and breadth of the country and around the world for a six-week celebration of Rugby and England's rich culture and heritage."
The announcement is a major boost for Papua New Guinea, who are the defending Oceania Cup champions, and PNGRFU President Richard Sapias said: “The PNGRFU are extremely excited at the opportunity to host the Oceania Cups in 2013 and 2015."
"Our region boasts a rich Rugby tradition, and the Oceania Cup will provide a great opportunity for the players of the region’s Development Unions to gauge themselves against their Island Rugby cousins. We also look forward to contributing towards promoting and expanding the Oceania Cup brand in the region as the stepping stone for all Oceania Development Unions to aspire to the next level of high performance Rugby.”
Oceania will be the final region to enter the qualification process and the announcement comes at the end of a landmark year for Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying, which kicked off in Mexico City in March and by its completion in 2014 will have seen 80 nations competing across 184 matches for the right to play in the eighth Rugby World Cup.