Rugby chiefs are set to hold key talks on Tuesday over the proposal to drastically shake up the international calendar and introduce a new global competition to be held every two years.
Six Nations Representatives, Sanzaar (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) and World Rugby are set to meet for crucial talks in Dublin over a biennial north versus south competition, which would be fully launched in 2026. It would be the sport’s biggest overhaul since the dawn of professionalism in 1995.
The competition, which would not be played in the World Cup or British and Irish Lions years, is a revamp of the Nations Championship which was proposed in 2019. While that was doomed, a well-placed source said the latest format has been “widely accepted by all parties”, including the cast. In 2019, there was significant opposition from the players’ union amid welfare concerns, and many While there are hurdles to overcome, there is optimism, progress will be made this week.
The competition would involve the Six Nations – England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales – in the north while Australia, Argentina, Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa would be joined in the south by Japan, even though it is in the northern hemisphere. European sides would play three matches on their summer tours against three different opponents and face the other three southern nations at home in November. The top two from each group would meet in a fourth week in November and it is understood there is some support for a finals day involving all teams, rather than a single game between the top two teams.
Remaining stumbling blocks include the fact that there are currently only three official test weeks in November – a finals day would require four and require player release agreements with French and English clubs. Insiders believe, however, that due to continued greater collaboration with clubs, there is likely to be less opposition from the Premiership and Top 14 than three years ago.
Other issues to be resolved are believed to relate to revenue sharing, although it does not help that Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney is absent from Dublin, after a recent pulmonary embolism, given his role in formulating the proposal to date. . There are also concerns in some quarters over promotion and relegation from the competition with a second tier tournament including nations such as USA, Tonga, Samoa and Georgia also set to be introduced, possibly to be from 2024. It had initially been hoped that the top tier league would also launch in 2024 but, as the Guardian previously revealed, that had become overly optimistic.
One of the main fears about the new tournament is that it would mean fewer matches between established and developing nations, but it’s not believed to be something that will torpedo the proposal. Equally important is that the Six Nations and the Rugby League are unaffected, eliminating the thorny issue of promotion and relegation introduced for the former.