According to the Chinese calendar, the year 2017 is the year of the Fire Rooster, a year dominated by the orientation towards progress, honour and maximum integrity – values that embody the spirit of rugby the world over – as well as heralding a new dawn.
And on the face of it, there is plenty for the international game to crow about in the 12 months ahead, with the men's and women's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series set to be bigger and better than ever before, a British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand to look forward to and the eighth edition of the Women’s Rugby World Cup showcasing the best the sport has to offer in Ireland.
We highlight some of the key dates to mark in your diaries.
28-29: Wellington Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. New Zealand go into their home tournament bidding for a fourth straight title and their sixth in seven years.
3-4: Sydney Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Sydney makes its debut and a warm reception is assured for Olympic champions Australia as they prepare to play in front of their own fans in a full-blown international tournament for the first time since striking gold in Rio de Janeiro.
4-5: Sydney Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Australia’s men will be desperate to set the record straight and win on home turf after a narrow 27-24 loss to trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in last year’s final.
4 February - 4 March: Americas Rugby Championship. Argentina XV start the defence of their title away to Canada in Langford, while USA take on Uruguay and Brazil are at home to Chile.
4 February - 18 March: Six Nations. A record 15 consecutive wins is within England’s sights as the reigning Six Nations champions welcome France to Twickenham. Scotland play Ireland in the earlier kick-off on Saturday, while Italy take on Wales in Rome the following day.
11 February - 19 March: Rugby Europe Championship. Can anyone end Georgia’s dominance of the competition formerly known as the European Nations Cup Division 1A? The Lelos have won the last six titles and begin their quest for a seventh with a trip to newly-promoted Belgium.
3-5: USA Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and Women’s Sevens Series. For the third time in 2016-17, the men's and women's tournaments run side by side as the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas plays host to the world's best sevens players. Fiji's men moved to the top of last season’s standings and never looked back after victory in Vegas last year. This is the first time the women will compete in Vegas, the third American venue to host a round of the series after Houston and Atlanta.
11-12: Canada Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. New Zealand have happy memories of last year’s inaugural Canada Sevens following their 19-14 over South Africa victory in the final at BC Place in Vancouver.
7-9: Hong Kong Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Former Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber returns to the former British colony as head coach of the defending champions Fiji.
22-23: Kitakyushu Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Like Vegas, a new addition to the women’s series and another opportunity for Japan to showcase its passion for the game ahead of RWC 2019.
15-16: Singapore Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. History was made at last year’s tournament when Kenya claimed their first-ever series tournament title with an emphatic 30-7 win against Fiji.
10: RWC 2019 Pool Allocation Draw. Kyoto’s State Guest House plays host to the draw for Rugby World Cup 2019. As per the 2015 tournament, the 12 directly qualified teams will be joined by eight teams that will come through the global qualifying process to form four pools of five teams each.
13-14: Paris Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Last year’s tournament will be hard to match as Samoa joined the ranks of surprise series winners with victory over Fiji.
20-21: London Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Scotland were history-makers in 2016, joining Samoa and Kenya as first-ever title winners, but can they back it up at Twickenham this year?
27-28: Canada Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. England head to the penultimate round of the series as defending champions.
3 June – 8 July: The British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. Warren Gatland's troops start their tough assignment with a game against a Provincial Union XV at the Toll Stadium in Whangarei.
31 May – 18 June: World Rugby U20 Championship. For the first time in history, Georgia stages World Rugby’s elite age-grade international competition. The stars of the future will gather in Tbilisi and Kutaisi to challenge for the trophy won last year by England. First up for the holders is a game against newly-promoted Samoa.
24-25: Clermont-Ferrand Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Canada’s women won the last round of the series in 2016 and will be among the favourites to do so again.
1: RWC 2019 Americas 1 play-off. USA take on border rivals Canada at a venue to be confirmed for the right to qualify directly for Japan 2019.
15: The World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup concludes with the top two sides from the triangular tournament, featuring Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, across 2016 and 2017 booking their places at RWC 2019 as Oceania 1 and Oceania 2.
9 – 26: Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, Ireland. The eighth edition of the tournament, first held in 1991, is set to be the most competitive yet. England are the defending champions but standards in the women’s game have risen markedly across the board since they lifted the trophy in France in 2014.
29 August – 10 September: World Rugby U20 Trophy, Uruguay. The Estadio Charrua in Montevideo plays host to the eight-team, second-tier competition. The U20 Trophy has been held in South America twice before, in Chile on both occasions, where Uruguay and Italy emerged as winners in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
The countdown to #RWC2019 begins here!
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