Rugby’s governing body lays out its concept for a new global competition
World Rugby clarifies Nations Championship Plans
After all the conflicting reports last week about what rugby’s proposed ‘world league’ meant for the game, World Rugby has clarified exactly what its plans are for the competition.
For a start, it’s called the Nations Championship rather than the other titles that have been bandied about and the idea is for it to start in 2022.
Last September, World Rugby presented its plans to the chief executives of the unions and International Rugby Players. These are the key points:
- The Six Nations, Rugby Championship and British & Irish Lions remain and would be “protected as jewels in the calendar”
- A two-division, merit-based format with promotion and relegation as well as a potential pathway for all unions
- Top division consists of two conferences comprising the Six Nations and Rugby Championship (where two Tier Two teams would be immediately added based on world rankings – currently Fiji and Japan – 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 tournament would run in two of the four years in the Rugby World Cup cycle. It wouldn’t take place in World Cup years and there would be a truncated version in Lions years
There would also be a third division for developing nations. This World Rugby video (using rankings from September 2018) maps out the proposed format…
With broadcast rights sold collectively as well as the possibility of grouped sponsorship deals, the goal is to increase revenue, with many unions struggling financially.
People have raised concerns that such a competition would devalue the World Cup but World Rugby have moved to quell those worries by stating: “Rugby World Cup to be enhanced as the pinnacle global event, potentially moving to 24 teams in 2027.”
World Rugby is meeting with the unions next week to further discuss the proposals.
The main sticking point is likely to be promotion-relegation. The Six Nations has continually stated it has no plans to introduce relegation – read The Changing Face of the Six Nations for more on that.
Unless the Six Nations is willing to compromise the plan does not work; rugby cannot become a closed shop for the world’s best teams.
There are notable player welfare concerns too. While most nations would play fewer Tests, the finalists would play five back-to-back in the autumn. Plus, there will be more travel involved with so many different teams to play.
Questions also remain on how the club game would fit into this structure and whether those countries not involved in the top division would go backwards without any Tests against Tier One countries.
Tier Two coaches often talk of the benefits of playing Tier One nations and how it helps them develop and improve. No one wants to see a continual cycle of the promoted teams getting relegated the following year.
It is certainly an interesting concept but there is a way to go yet if this is to be agreed.
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