"In recognition of the amount of rugby now being played and the implications on the establishment of an integrated season, the RWC Board has decided that there should be 12 automatic qualifying places for future tournaments," said IRB Chairman, Dr. Syd Millar.
"This will serve to reduce the potential number of international matches that would have to be played in the years before a tournament by those teams who did not make the quarter-finals of the previous World Cup, reducing fixture congestion.
"With the top three teams in each pool qualifying directly to the next World Cup, this new process raises the prospect of several Tier 2 Unions obtaining automatic qualification. This does not happen at present and it will add excitement and relevance to more pool matches at each tournament, including the 2007 World Cup," added former Ireland international Millar.
The qualification process will see greater recognition given to the major regional championships in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
In another exciting development, the introduction of a World Trophy tournament the year before a World Cup, will provide matches at an appropriate level for Tier 2 and 3 Unions with the added incentive of silverware and qualification for the World Cup. Such a move is the culmination of the IRB's Strategic Initiatives, aimed at increasing the overall competitiveness of international rugby and the Rugby World Cup.
The exact number of qualifiers from the regional championships and the World Trophy qualifying tournament will depend upon the number of teams that will participate at each World Cup finals tournament. The RWC Board is presently reviewing this number that presently stands at 20 teams, along with the use of the IRB World Rankings to determine the seedings and draw for the tournament.
"The World Trophy tournament, played at one venue, with places determined from the regional championship competitions will be highly competitive. The tournament along with the upgrading of the regional championships will replace the existing qualifying process that has, in the past, duplicated existing match schedules and the Repechage process that sees teams qualify very late in the lead up to the World Cup," Millar added.
The tender process for the host Union of Rugby World Cup 2015 will begin in 2008.