The runners up from 2016, Papua New Guinea will open the championship against the Manusina from Samoa, while defending champions the Fiji Airways Fijiana will face off against Tonga in the final match of Round 1 on Friday 16 November.Fiji Airways Fijiana 15s Team Captain Lailanie Burnes is excited at the prospect of playing against their Pacific neighbours. “We know that we’ll be facing some tough games ahead, however, we will be giving it our all and we look forward to making our supporters and fellow countrymen proud,” Burnes added. “We hope to see rugby fans from across Fiji come out in numbers to support the teams as they play the tournament at Churchill Park,” O’Connor added. He highlighted the growing influence of Pacific Island women in Rugby and their presence in the International game, where Team Captains for New Zealand, Australia and U.S.A are all of Pacific Island decent. “We have the Black Ferns who are World Champions (XVs) and the New Zealand Women’s 7s team who are Commonwealth and World champions, not to mention current Olympic and HSBC SWS Championships Australia,” Cook commented. In hosting the Women’s Championship for the second consecutive time, Fiji Rugby’s Chief Executive Officer John O’Conner affirmed the importance of Women’s Rugby and its growth in Fiji. “There’s natural talent and leadership in this region, and we want our women to have an equal footing with the men to be the best they can be in Rugby for a chance to represent their countries,” Cook said. He said the tournament will showcase the emerging strength of international women’s rugby and provide a platform for our Fiji Airways Fijiana to work towards the 2021 World Rugby Women’s World Cup. “We are entering some exciting times in the region for Women’s Rugby, and we are delighted to have four teams from within the Pacific take part in this year’s Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship,” said Bruce Cook, General Manager of Oceania Rugby. “We are really honored to be hosting the Women’s 15s Championship in partnership with Oceania Rugby and the Fiji National Sports Commission,” O’Connor said. Samoa and Tonga are expected to field strong line ups, with players playing provincial and club rugby in New Zealand and Australia expected to join the respective squads in Lautoka for a chance to play International Rugby. The Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship will play an integral part in building a platform to further promote and develop Women’s Rugby in the XVs code in Oceania. “To have four teams from across the Pacific, here in Fiji, we hope will encourage more women and girls to pick up the ball and start playing rugby.” He said the immense amount of interest and growth in Women’s Rugby is tremendous, and that Oceania Rugby continues to see a huge number of girls taking up rugby the various GIR (Get into Rugby) and GIR Plus programmes. “The last major test match for us at home was in 2016 and to run on and play with the whole grandstand cheering us on was a humbling experience,” Burnes said. The Oceania region’s success across both forms of the game on the World Rugby stage continues to be a major catalyst in inspiring young girls to take on the game in the region. 2018 Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship FixturesRound 1, Friday 16 November Papua New Guinea v Samoa, 1.00pm Fiji v Tonga, 3.00pm Round 2, Tuesday 20 November Samoa v Tonga, 1.00pm Fiji v Papua New Guinea, 3.00pmRound 3, Saturday 24 NovemberPapua New Guinea v Tonga, 1.00pm Fiji v Samoa, 3.00pmAll matches will be played at Churchill Park, Lautoka. “The Championship will serve as key development and performance pathway for our girls and young women, especially in the Pacific. It will provide an opportunity for our aspiring young women from the region to represent their countries and play regular International Test Rugby,” Cook added. Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and hosts Fiji will play in a three round robin tournament on Friday 16, Tuesday 20 and Saturday 24 November in pursuit of Pacific supremacy and the opportunity to showcase and promote International Women’s XVs Rugby in Fiji and the Pacific.