Paris - Asia is to get a new Five Nations rugby union tournament to help develop the sport on the continent, the International Rugby Board (IRB) announced on Thursday.
The inaugural Asian Five Nations will oppose teams from Japan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, South Korea and the Gulf featuring a round-robin format with Test matches held on five consecutive weekends throughout April and May of this year.
An IRB statement said that the new event "represents the pinnacle of a complete restructuring of competition structures in Asia by the region's governing body, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU).
"The Asian Five Nations will be the flagship tournament for Asia, serving to promote and raise awareness of the game in the region at all levels, while also providing a competitive competition and development structure for all participating unions," said the IRB's Head of Rugby Services Mark Egan.
"In addition to providing annual competition for each union, the tournament will serve to provide the platform as an ongoing development tool for players, officials and administrators with an ultimate goal of providing a pathway for entry into world class competitions such as the Rugby World Cup."
Japan were the only Asian team to qualify for last year's World Cup in France and they failed to make it past the group stages.
ARFU Honorary Secretary General Ross Mitchell said that the advent of the Asian Five Nations was an exciting development for the Game in the continent.
"The tournament is vital for the development and expansion of rugby throughout Asia and will give our elite players the chance to perform in front of a significantly expanded TV audience, whilst providing a platform for development at all other levels."
The Asian Five Nations Tournament will be the pinnacle of four newly formed tiers of elite competition across all 25 Asian Rugby Unions with promotion and relegation opportunities between divisions for all participating teams.
The last placed team in the Asian Five Nations in 2008 will be relegated to the 2009 Division One competition and the top team in Division One will gain promotion to the Asian Five Nations.
The promotion and relegation policy will also be in effect for the Division One and Division Two competitions, guaranteeing an opportunity for all Unions to advance on the world stage.
This year's Division One competition will be played amongst China, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
The Division Two competition will be contested by India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand.
Four regional competitions will also be played in 2008.
The first is in Qatar and features Macau, Mongolia and Qatar, the second will be held in Guam between Brunei, Guam and the Philippines, the third is in Indonesia and features Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos while Kyrgyzstan hosts the final regional competition with Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. - Sapa-AFP