World Rugby announces annual three-tier WXV competition in aligned calendar
New global women’s tournament launched
World Rugby has launched a new global women’s 15-a-side tournament that it says will “supercharge” the game.
The WXV competition will be played annually (outside World Cup years) from 2023 – the start date pushed back a year due to the postponement of RWC 2021 until 2022 – and will feature 16 teams in three tiers.
World Rugby is investing £6.4m into the first two years of the tournament, with matches played in a new September-October window.
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This is a landmark moment for the sport. Today’s announcement of a new global international 15s calendar will underpin the future success and accelerate the development of the women’s game.
“By establishing a unified international 15s calendar and introducing WXV we are creating a platform for the women’s international teams to compete in more consistent, competitive and sustainable competitions at regional and global level.
“This is an ambitious, long-term commitment to make the global game more competitive, to grow the women’s game and support the expansion of Rugby World Cup to 16 teams from 2025 and beyond.”
How will teams qualify for WXV?
The WXV competition is split into three tiers, with teams qualifying via regional tournaments that must be completed by June each year.
The top three teams in the Women’s Six Nations each year will qualify for WXV1, the top tier, as will the top three teams in a new annual tournament involving Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
The fourth-placed team in that tournament will qualify for WXV2, which will also include two teams from Europe and one each from Oceania, Asia and Africa.
It is not yet known how these teams will be determined, with discussions ongoing as to whether a play-off involving the bottom three teams in the Six Nations and, say, the winner of the Rugby Europe Championship would be better than using world rankings or vice versa. Spain, for example, are not in the Six Nations but are currently above Scotland in the World Rugby Rankings.
The third tier, WX3, will include two European teams as well as one from Asia and the winner of an Africa v South America play-off.
It’s a clean slate each year so teams play their regional tournaents in the first half of the year to determine which WXV level they will play at later that year.
What is the WXV tournament format?
All three tournaments will be played in standalone locations – a different one for each tier – with unions able to bid to host them. The plan is that the host country will have qualified for the tournament they stage – WXV1, WXV2 or WXV3.
WXV1 and WXV2 will have a cross-pool format while WXV3, with four teams, is a round-robin tournament. All teams will play three matches.
There is no promotion-relegation in terms of the structure of WXV1 in the first cycle of the tournament but different teams could play in it each year. So for the first cycle it will have three Six Nations teams and three teams from the Australasia-North America qualifier, but those teams could differ depending on who finishes in the top three in 2023 and 2024.
For example, England, France and Ireland might finish in the top half of the Six Nations table in 2023 to make it to WXV1 but if it’s England, Wales and Italy finishing first, second and third in the 2024 championship they will play in WXV1 that year.
There is promotion-relegation between WXV2 and WXV3, although it is not the team that drops down or goes up but the regional position.
For example, Wales could finish bottom of WXV2 in 2023 but play in WXV1 in 2024 if they finished in the top three of the Six Nations that year. But Europe would lose that regional position in WXV2 so if, say, the Asia team had won WXV3 in 2023 there would then be two Asia teams in WXV2 in 2024 and only one Europe team.
There will also be a play-off between the fourth-ranked team in WXV3 and the next best team in the rankings not involved in the tournament to determine regional positions for the following year.
RUGBY WORLD VERDICT
A global season has been in the works for a few years now so it’s great to see the structure finally announced, writes RW editor Sarah Mockford.
The WXV tournament combined with the regional competitions means countries will have regular Test matches every year, which can only raise standards and make the women’s game more competitive. In years gone by, teams like Australia may not have played a single Test and now they will be guaranteed at least six a year – that will make a huge difference.
It also means more will be riding on every Six Nations fixture, with teams striving to finish in the top three each year to qualify for WXV1. You’d also hope a real buzz and sense of occasion can be created in the venues for each of the WXV standalone tournaments later in the year.
There are concerns over the fact using closed competitions like the Six Nations and the new Australasia-North America tournament as qualifiers means other countries have limited scope to progress to the different tiers, particularly with no relegation in WXV1 in the first cycle.
Countries like Spain, Fiji and South Africa, who have started to invest more in their women’s programmes, must be given opportunities to compete.
The key to the success of WXV lies off the field, however. World Rugby has spoken of interest from broadcasters and commercial partners but there is nothing concrete yet. The tournament needs to be financially viable and visible worldwide.
There’s no point creating a tournament like this if people can’t watch the games, whether that’s on traditional broadcast platforms or via live streams, because that is how you inspire the next generation.
What should be applauded is the spirit of collaboration between unions. Major club competitions like the Allianz Premier 15s and Farah Palmer Cup are set to shift their seasons to accommodate the new international window as part of an aligned global calendar – something the men’s game could certainly learn from.
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