Fiji and Japan look set to be locked out of the Nations Championship until 2026 as World Rugby fights for a compromise to get the controversial global competition over the line.
Rugby’s global governing body secured a major victory last month when the world’s top 12 nations agreed to enter a period of due diligence on the north-south tournament but the concept continues to run aground on the subject of promotion and relegation between the tier one and two competitions.
The Sydney Morning Herald understands the latest proposal being circulated between the unions proposes the new competition kick off with only the 10 nations in the existing Rugby Championship and Six Nations in 2022 and add 12 teams to the southern hemisphere division from 2026.
That means Japan and Fiji, who between them, have in the past four years beat France, Italy and South Africa, will be shut out of the competition for the first four years
It is a proposal sure to dismay many rugby fans all over the world, with both those nations, plus Georgia, currently ranked in the top 12. Italy is in 14th spot.
It is also a peculiar compromise, given the four Sanzaar nations have all publicly supported both a 12-team model and promotion and relegation.
The major opposition to the competition is still coming from Ireland and Scotland, sources have told the Sydney Morning Herald. Given their positions would not be affected by the inclusion of two southern hemisphere teams, it makes a Fiji and Japan shut-out all the more unusual.
One source suggested a 10-team model would be the quickest way to get the deal across the line, given it would not require any expansion of the Rugby Championship.
Broadcast priorities could also be at play, with at least three of the Sanzaar unions facing cooling domestic markets.
World Rugby is still pushing to get its original concept over the line but that looks an impossibility.
While not exclusively touting the 10-team model, sources told the Herald it was the most detailed of the alternative proposals circulated by World Rugby in a May 4 paper.
In that event, World Rugby would still invest heavily in meaningful tier two competitions in the north and south, and potentially guarantee the best of the tier two nations annual Test matches against the tier ones.
The competition will be discussed at the next round of World Rugby meetings in Dublin next week but the unions are not required to sign on for exclusive negotiations with rightsholder Infront Sports until the end of the month.
While the likes of South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Wales, in particular, are desperate for financial injection posed by the $9.4 billion Infront deal, it is the Sanzaar unions on the tighter timeline.
With the current broadcast cycle expiring at the end of next year, they should be well advanced in their negotiations with broadcasters on the future of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.
With this week’s news of looming cuts to sports rights spending at Foxtel, Sanzaar will be pressing for an answer either way from the northern hemisphere unions this month.