Wales will prepare for the World Cup by playing England three times inside six months.
In a move that could eventually prove a forerunner to an expanded home and away Six Nations tournament, the Welsh Rugby Union have confirmed back-to-back fixtures against both England and Ireland next summer.
It means Wales will play England in February in the Six Nations in Cardiff and then twice in August before heading for the World Cup in Japan.
The August Tests – four in total – will replace the games, and more critically the revenue, that Wales will lose by having no autumn internationals in a World Cup season.
No ticket prices for the fixtures have yet been released.
But it could also lead to inevitable speculation that the Six Nations might be expanded into a home and away tournament, initially in World Cup years only.
Wales are already playing Scotland this November for the first time in an autumn Test as they seek to maximise their income to fund the national teams and player contracts.
If autumn Tests against Six Nations opponents prove to be stronger commercial draws than against declining southern hemisphere powers such as South Africa, then more games against home nations could fill the autumn schedules.
To ensure those games have added appeal, and do not undermine the mystique of the fixture, then there will be pressure from some to absorb them into the existing Six Nations tournament.
Wales will kick-off their series of matches on Sunday August 11th with a visit to Twickenham to face England. The two sides will play the reverse fixture six days later at Principality Stadium on Saturday August 17th.
Wales will then welcome Ireland to Cardiff on Saturday August 31st before concluding their fixture programme in Dublin against Ireland on Saturday September 7th. The final fixture against Ireland will come after Wales have submitted their RWC squad to World Rugby, which will take place earlier that week.
“I’m delighted with the fixture schedule we have put together for next summer leading us into the rugby world cup,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“We have put together a detailed plan of preparation leading into the tournament and these fixtures are an extremely important part of that. It is important we test ourselves in competitive environments before heading to Japan and these matches are ideal for us and I’m delighted to have secured back-to-back fixtures against both England and Ireland.
“The home matches especially are also a great opportunity for us to play in front of our supporters and for them to see us in action before we head to Japan.”
With the tournament just 12 months away the WRU yesterday announced a unique partnership with the city of Kitakyushu where the squad will base themselves upon arrival in Japan. The on-going community engagement programme and backing from the city will see Wales head to Toyota for their first game on September 23rd 2019 full of support.
Wales’ 2019 summer fixtures:
(KO time and broadcast details TBC)
England v Wales (Twickenham) Sunday August 11.
Wales v England (Principality Stadium) Saturday August 17.
Wales v Ireland (Principality Stadium) Saturday August 31.
Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium) Saturday September 7.