The IRB Nations Cup 2009 gets underway in Romania on Friday, June 12 with newcomers France A and Scotland A joining Russia, Romania, Uruguay and Italy A in the race to add a new name to the coveted trophy.
With last year's champions Emerging South Africa not in Bucharest to defend their title owing to British and Irish Lions' tour commitments, the tournament organisers are expecting the third staging of the six-team Nations Cup in Romania to be the most open in history.
Expectations are also high that the key international development tournament will break new ground off the pitch after setting new broadcast and attendance records in 2008.
"The 2008 competition set new standards for Romanian Rugby," said IRB Tournament Director Beth Coalter. "Aside for the exemplary organisation of what was a well-run tournament, the format of playing matches under floodlights for the first time in Romania proved attractive for fans and record crowds flocked to the Arcul de Triumf to see the six international teams in action. It proved to be a winning formula."
"Twelve months on the effects continue to be felt. In addition to increased attendances and support for the Game, the 2008 tournament enhanced the development of Rugby in Romania with an expansion of the tournament's legacy programme, backed by all the participating teams, which involved schools and local clubs, welcoming new players to Rugby."
"I am sure that the venue will once again prove to be a fitting and welcome host for a tournament which will provide nine high quality matches over three competition days," added Coalter.
While all eyes will be firmly focused on the action on the field, the IRB Nations Cup also plays a considerable role in the ongoing development of each of the participating Unions, providing access to a competitive player development environment and an expanded match schedule.
"The IRB Nations Cup is a key tournament element of the IRB's £48 million Strategic Investment Programme aimed at raising global playing standards. It is now a major fixture on the global Rugby calendar and provides targeted strategic investment Unions with access to an expanded Test calendar," said Coalter.
"The tournament provides Romania, Russia and Uruguay with an opportunity to test themselves against a higher level of opposition than they would normally meet, while it also offers France A, Italy A and Scotland A with a platform for development of the next generation of Test players."
The tournament kicks off with newcomers France A taking on Italy A, followed by debutants Scotland A against Russia, who are participating in their third IRB Nations Cup.
The final match on the opening day will pit hosts Romania against a strong and committed Uruguay with both nations keen to use the tournament to warm up for the final stages of the qualifying rounds for RWC 2011.
Host Broadcasters TVR 2 will broadcast five of the nine matches live and the other four matches as live. With the tournament being televised in Europe, North America, Asia, South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East it has a combined potential reach of 150 million homes.
The IRB will be providing round by round coverage of the IRB Nations Cup 2009 on its official website, www.irb.com/nationscup.
Match Day 1 - Friday, June 12
16:00 Italy A v France A
18:00 Scotland A v Russia
20:00 Uruguay v Romania
Match Day 2 - Tuesday, June 16
16:00 Scotland A v Uruguay
18:00 Italy A v Russia
20:00 France A v Romania
Match Day 3 - Sunday, June 21
16:00 Russia v Uruguay
18:00 Italy A v Romania
20:00 France A v Scotland A