With plans to reshape the international rugby calendar dividing opinion between organizers and players, World Rugby has outlined its vision for a new global competition that it says would boost investment into the game.
After a meeting in Dublin on Thursday, World Rugby announced that the sport would receive $6.6 billion investment over the first 12 years — $2 billion of which would be guaranteed revenue for the world game — from a deal struck with Swiss-based sports marketing company Infront.
The format of the new competition, dubbed the Nations Championship, would see the Rugby Championship expanded to six teams with Japan and Fiji (based on the current world rankings) joining New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa.
Rugby Championship teams would then face teams from Europe’s Six Nations meaning each country plays at least 11 games a year.
Initial plans for the top four Six Nations and Rugby Championship teams to then play semifinals have been scrapped amid concerns for player welfare. World Rugby is now proposing that just a final would be played between the top two teams.
Earlier plans for promotion and relegation between divisions remain, which would be decided by a playoff between the bottom teams in the top divisions and the top teams in the second divisions.
The Nations Championship would not take place during World Cup years and there would be no promotion and relegation during years where British and Irish Lions Tours are scheduled.
World Rugby is optimistic that a vote on the proposed format will take place when the council convenes in May, with the changes being implemented from 2022 if they are passed.
“There was strong recognition that World Rugby’s Nations Championship proposal, based on a true pathway for all, has been developed with great care, extensive evaluation and with the global game at the forefront of our thinking,” said chairman Bill Beaumont following Thursday’s meeting in Dublin.
“We are encouraged that the format revisions and robust financial model has been well-received. Everyone, not just the established teams, will benefit, accelerating the development and competitiveness of the global game.
“However, as you would expect in an ambitious, complex and multi-stakeholder project, not everyone is in full agreement on the way forward, including the matter of promotion and relegation.”
The International Rugby Players Council previously voiced concerns that the new schedule would be “out of touch” with the modern game.
The welfare body issued another statement today urging that “player views must be fundamental to any future proposals.”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, whose side will play for the Six Nations grand slam this weekend, said: “The frustrations over the lack of player consultation are addressed.
“It’s in the interest of our game that World Rugby and the unions convene with the playing population so that proper solutions can be agreed,” said Jones. “Players having a genuine and greater say can’t be undervalued.”