Rugby's governing body have defended plans to launch a new World League competition will provide opportunities for all countries to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation.
Last week it was revealed Fiji, Samoa and Tonga could all be excluded from a major revamp of the international calendar, with one leaked proposal stating teams from the European Six Nations and the Southern Hemipshere's Rugby Championship would be joined by Japan and the USA.
World Rugby denied that Pacific nations would be left out of the proposed competition, insisting all teams would be judged by on-field success alone.
In a statement released overnight, the sport's governing body said all teams outside of the two major competitions, including the Pacific Island nations, would have a "potential pathway" to compete in the proposed World League.
"Contrary to reports, our proposed competition provides opportunities for all teams to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation. Under this model, the Pacific Islands and all teams outside the current Six Nations and The Rugby Championship would have a potential pathway.
"With the proposed model incorporating competitions that are not owned or run by World Rugby, not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation.
"We continue to consider the feedback, but remain absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all."
Following a barrage of criticism over the proposed format, World Rugby said: "Change is always difficult, and nobody expected complex multi-stakeholder discussions to be simple, however for a sport to grow and thrive, it must explore ways to innovate and evolve."
The governing body said the original competition model tabled with union CEOs and International Rugby Players, in September, featured a two-division, merit-based format with promotion and relegation and a potential pathway for all unions to be involved.
The competition is proposed to start in 2022, with two conferences comprising the 6 Nations and The Rugby Championship, with two tier two teams added to the latter to make six in total.
Each team would play the other 11 teams once either home or away with points accumulated throughout counting towards a league table.
The top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semi-finals, followed by a grand final.
The competition would also provide qualification and seeding for future Rugby World Cups, with the World Cup potentially increasing from 20 to 24 teams in 2027.