World Rugby powerbrokers have clarified and defended plans to launch a global Nations Championship ahead of key meetings in Dublin next week.
It seems the global body is insisting on promotion/relegation in the ‘World League’ and does not plan to introduce the new model, should it be agreed upon, until 2022.
The sport’s governors defended their plans around player welfare and insisted proposals on the table are for a two-division competition including promotion and relegation.
The International Rugby Players Council, including All Blacks captain Kieran Read, will also meet again next week to further discuss the proposal.
Read was among many players to voice their opposition to the initial proposal, with concerns about player welfare and the competition’s integrity.
World Rugby has now released plans for discussion for the Six Nations teams to be joined by the Rugby Championship quartet plus two tier-two nations, based on world rankings (i.e. it would be Fiji and Japan at the moment), with the annual contests slated to start in 2022 and run across autumn and summer Test windows.
The game’s powerbrokers also revealed plans to expand the Rugby World Cup from 20 to 24 teams in time for the 2027 tournament, to protect its position as “the pinnacle global event”.
“World Rugby has moved to clarify the organisation’s position on the merits and structure of an annual global competition in advance of key meetings in Dublin next week,” read World Rugby’s statement.
“As the international federation for the sport, World Rugby is committed to the global advancement of rugby and its character-building values to build a better, stronger game for players, unions, clubs and fans.
“Player welfare is fundamental to our sport. Within the original proposal, players would play a maximum of 13 matches if their team reaches the final, compared to an average of between 12 and 14 Test matches presently.
Most teams would play 11 matches.
“Contrary to reports, our proposed competition provides opportunities for all teams to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation. Under this model, the Pacific Islands and all teams outside the current Six Nations and the Rugby Championship would have a potential pathway.
“With the proposed model incorporating competitions that are not owned or run by World Rugby, not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation.
“We continue to consider the feedback, but remain absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all.”
Leading Test stars Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Kieran Read savaged World Rugby’s plans over undue player strain, while Pacific Islands player groups hit out at fears Samoa, Tonga and Fiji could be snubbed entirely.
The International Rugby Players (IRP) organisation has said it will meet again next week to discuss World Rugby’s latest proposals.
World Rugby, however, hopes organising the competition centrally will boost revenue across the sport, with Amazon thought to be the main interested broadcaster.
Vowing to enshrine the Six Nations, Rugby Championship and British and Irish Lions as “protected as jewels in the calendar”, World Rugby explained plans to host the new competition fully in two of the four years in a World Cup cycle.
The top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semi-finals before a grand final.
“Growing the sport’s fan base through more compelling competition is also vital as broadcasters will only pay more for a product that fans want to see,” continued the statement.
“Under the proposed competition, media rights would be combined, enabling greater consistency and overall value.
“Strong interest from media entities has indicated that the model would boost annual media revenue for international rugby and unions, for reinvestment in the game, by a substantial amount.”