World Rugby have confirmed the qualifying process for the 2023 Rugby World Cup to be held in France.
Japan’s strong performance as hosts last autumn, where they reached the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time in their history, sees them automatically qualify for the tournament in France along with 11 other nations.
With Japan not taking part, the door is open for an Asia nation to claim a spot at the World Cup for the victor of Asia Rugby Championship.
Of the Asia nations who competed in the 2019 qualification process, Hong Kong are the highest ranked in World Rugby’s standings at 22.
There are eight available spots open to countries through the 2023 qualifying process.
That number will be reduced in 2021 when Tonga and Samoa meet to determine the direct qualifier for Oceania.
France 2023 Rugby World Cup qualification
Already qualified (12): South Africa, England, New Zealand, Wales, Japan, France, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Fiji
Future competition qualifiers (8): Oceania 1, Asia/Pacific 1, Africa 1, Americas 1, Americas 2, Europe 1, Europe 2, Final qualification winner
Though the road will not end for the loser of the match, who will be eligible to qualify if they beat the Oceania Rugby Cup 2021 winner and the Asia Rugby Championship winner, who they will play home and away.
The Americas and have two qualification spots up for grabs, claimed by the USA and Uruguay for the last World Cup.
While Romania, Spain and Belgium will go through the qualifying process again after a controversial campaign for the last time tournament, which they were disqualified from for fielding ineligible players.
Russia gained the advantage of this and will have the chance to reach back-to-back tournaments with two spots available to Europe.
Namibia joined South Africa as the only African representation in Japan, and will play for the same again without head coach Phil Davies, now at Yorkshire Carnegie.
The final qualification tournament in November 2022 will feature four teams playing in a round-robin format with the winner qualifying for France 2023.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “With the global pandemic having halted most rugby activity, confirmation of the global qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2023 provides a beacon of excitement for all, including players and fans.
“The process that has been developed via full consultation with our regional associations and member unions will provide a genuine opportunity for full member unions to qualify for our showcase men’s 15s event.
“Maximising existing regional competitions, the process is good for regions and unions in managing costs for organisers and participants alike, which is important as we all recover from the global pandemic.
“On behalf of World Rugby, I’d like to wish all teams involved the best of luck on their journey to France 2023.”