By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Top-tier rugby nations will not play all of their 2015 World Cup pool matches on weekends in order to give smaller nations a more balanced programme, the International Rugby Board has said.
"Yes, that does mean that," IRB chief executive Brett Gosper told reporters in Wellington when asked if the top-tier nations like New Zealand, England and France would face a similar schedule as teams like Samoa, Fiji and Japan.
"We think in the next World Cup schedule, that will be announced very soon in late April or early May, there is a very strong fairness in terms of the times of rest periods.
"It will be the same for all teams. Far more equal. Completely equal," he added.
Second-tier nations have been forced to have a condensed schedule at previous World Cup tournaments, with broadcasters requiring the top-tier nations to play at the weekends, thus ensuring bumper television viewing figures.
Japan were required to play all four of their Pool A games at the 2011 World Cup in 17 days. Hosts New Zealand and beaten finalists France, both in the same pool, had a week between each of their group games.
The scheduling, however, created greater controversy for Samoa, who played Wales in Hamilton just four days after their first game of the tournament.
Wales, by contrast, had a week to prepare and beat the Pacific Island side 17-10.
Samoa also played 2007 World Cup winners South Africa just five days after their match against Fiji, losing 13-5 to the Springboks and falling out of quarter-finals contention.
Samoa centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu took to the social media network Twitter to vent his frustration at the scheduling, labelling it as "unjust" and akin to "apartheid" and "slavery".
Fuimaono-Sapolu later apologised for his outburst but stood by his assertion that the schedule was unfair.
New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew said his organisation was in full support of the schedule as the top-tier nations had requested a more equitable draw.
"We asked for it after the last World Cup," Tew said.
"We thought it was unjust that the small unions play in a pinnacle event with a shorter rest period than we played our games."
Several of the smaller nations were also hampered by players being unavailable for the 2011 World Cup, with reports later surfacing that their clubs, particularly in France and England, had put indirect pressure on them not to play at the tournament.
Gosper, however, said a meeting had been held with club representatives to ensure that 'regulation nine' - governing the release of players for international duty - would be upheld.
"We take it very seriously, both for the integrity of the international game but also for the individual player to represent his country," Gosper added.
"We had a meeting very recently to make sure that regulation nine would be enforced in a very robust way.
"They (the clubs) stated that they feel it was very important and they would operate in that way in the future."
(Editing by John O'Brien)