An annual 12-a-side competition is set to launch in 2022

New World 12s tournament explained

A new annual 12-a-side rugby tournament is aiming to bring new fans and funds into the sport.

World 12s is set to launch the men’s tournament in 2022, with the women’s event from 2023, and there will be equal prize money for both competitions. Players would be selected for eight franchises via an auction.

Organisers say they aim to bring £250m into the sport over five years as well as attract new fans through the shortened format, while insisting the tournament will complement, rather than detract from, existing events.

Here we break down all you need to know about the new World 12s tournament…

Who will play in the new World 12s tournament?

The goal is for 192 of the world’s best players from Tier One and Tier Two nations to be involved, with players auctioned off to eight franchise teams. The auction will follow a similar format to the Indian Premier League and Hundred in cricket, and would likely be staged in early 2022.

Each franchise will have to select two players from Tier Two nations as well as one international U20 player in their squad of 24.

How does 12s differ from 15s?

There will be six forwards and six backs in a team rather than eight forwards and seven backs.

Matches will be 15 minutes each way, rather than 40, and in knockout games if there is a tie at full-time the winner will be decided by a golden point.

There would also be a couple of law adaptations, including conversions having to be drop-goals. Only one scrum reset will be permitted, with a free-kick awarded after that. Penalties for scrum infringements can’t be kicked at goal.

What is the tournament format?

Matches would be played over three weekends, with two round-robin weekends followed by the knockout stages to determine rankings from first to eighth.

To address player welfare, there will be limits on game time for each player, with a proposal of players being restricted to 60 minutes across the three weekends.

When will the World 12s take place?

Discussions are still ongoing, but organisers aim to stage the 2022 tournament over three weeks in late August/early September in England, with it moving to different locations around the world each year.

Who is involved?

Former RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is the World 12s chairman, with Gareth Davies (former WRU chairman) and Steve Tew (former NZRU CEO) non-executive directors. The tournament is backed by a UK-based financial consortium, although as yet there are no details of who makes up the consortium or how much money is involved.

World 12s tournament

Ian Ritchie is the World 12s chairman (James Robinson)

Rugby World Cup-winning coaches Steve Hansen and Jake White are also ambassadors for World 12s.

Why have they decided to launch a new rugby tournament?

Ritchie says: “All sports need innovation, to adapt, to attract new people to watch, to be fast, exciting, innovative and entertaining. That’s what we believe World 12s brings to the party.

“It’s a new model, with new investors and finance coming into the sport, and it is complementary not competitive. We believe it’s a huge step forward globally for the sport.”

Hansen says: “We’ve probably got a little complacent about our game. The World 12s will get people excited and move people’s backsides from the back of seats to the front. The concept allows us to play the game fast and for it to be about skill.”

White also points to the fact that the financial benefits of this three-week tournament could encourage players to stay in their home countries and play for domestic teams rather than seek overseas contracts.

England coach Eddie Jones actually discussed the possibility of a 12 v 12 format in Rugby World magazine last year.

Related: Eddie Jones on his coaching methods

What are the potential issues?

Player release is a big one. The proposed timing of August/September currently clashes with the start of the season in Europe and the Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere, so it’s hard to see clubs and unions releasing their biggest players for the World 12s.

While organisers are keen to insist that it won’t dilute or detract from any existing competitions or investment, there are concerns that it will.

Plus, there is the question of whether a new tournament – and new format of the game – is needed, particularly with player welfare such a big issue.

How has World Rugby reacted?

World 12s said they have held “informal” discussions with World Rugby, unions, clubs and other stakeholders about the tournament.

A World Rugby spokesperson said: “We are aware of the proposed new World 12s competition. While we welcome innovative thinking with the potential to advance the reach, attractiveness and growth of the sport, comprehensive consultation with the organisers is required to understand the viability of the concept, particularly in the context of ongoing global calendar discussions and the priority area of player welfare.”

What do you think of the new World 12s tournament? Email with your views or contact us via social media. 

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