20 May, 19:55
Check out all the latest from Connacht
The IRB (International Rugby Board) announced a cash plan to boost all tiers of international rugby in Cape Town on Thursday, by investing 43.2 million (Stg#30m) in the sport across the globe.
The cash plan represents the biggest high performance investment during the IRB's 120-year history, with an ultimate goal of producing more competition at the Rugby World Cup.
The three-year programme, which has been approved by the IRB's executive committee, will see seven tier two unions - Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Canada, USA, Japan and Romania - share 22.3m worth of investments, with 4.3m notably earmarked for "high performance initiatives" in the Pacific Islands.
Further investment in the ten tier one unions, including the likes of Ireland, England and Wales, is also planned. Each of these unions be eligible for up to 360,000 per annum for a three-year period (2005-2007) for high performance related projects.
Argentina will receive 1.1m towards high performance requirements and an additional 2.2m for establishing new domestic structures and a cross-border tournament.
Of interest to Irish supporters will be the IRB's framework for a series of new international tournaments, which have been "aproved in principle", and are to be played during the months of June and July.
The Ireland "A" team could see summer action in an expanded Churchill Cup - to include Canada, USA, Argentina "A", England "A" and other national tier one "A" teams (from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy).
There are also plans for an international Rainbow Cup - to include Romania, South Africa "A" and other national "A" teams (from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy). The structures for these two proposed tournaments will be finalised in November of this year.
"Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that more unions can challenge for, and potentially win, the Rugby World Cup," admitted IRB Chairman Dr. Syd Millar.
"While rugby has come a long way in that short period, this investment represents a huge statement in terms of our confidence in the future prosperity of rugby. The maintenance of our traditional base is a priority, but we also have to move rugby into new markets and continue to grow the developing markets.
"This is a massive investment programme that should have a significant impact on world rugby."