World Rugby has insisted that the proposed north versus south “Nations Championship” competition – including a grand final between the two hemispheres every two years – will not detract from the prestige of the World Cup after expressing confidence the new tournament will get off the ground.
Key stakeholders, including representatives from the Six Nations and Sanzaar, have been locked in discussions in Dublin this week in an effort to resolve the remaining stumbling blocks. A well-placed source has said that all parties have “broadly agreed” the format of the competition but concerns linger over how revenues will be shared, the effects of promotion and relegation and the need to agree new player release deals with clubs – although the Guardian understands there is more collaboration than three years ago, when a similar proposal failed.
While the aim of bringing more meaning to the July and November Tests windows has been generally well-received, the main criticism of the proposal is that it would devalue the World Cup, which remains World Rugby’s jewel in the crown. The Nations Championship would not take place in World Cup or British & Irish Lions years, however, and World Rugby’s chief executive Alan Gilpin said: “We have to be confident, firstly, that we can deliver outstanding World Cups and that the World Cups are the biggest moments in the sport – and they are. [The players] have been engaged through this whole process of the global competition discussions.
“Constantly you hear from the players that the World Cup is the biggest moment. For World Cups to be more competitive, which is what all the players and fans want, we need this shift in the calendar and the competition models, so they’re just inextricably linked. We’ll try and persuade people who are listening that world champions isn’t the right name.”
Gilpin also revealed that regardless of whether the proposal comes to pass for the Six Nations, the Sanzaar countries, Fiji and Japan, World Rugby is determined to press ahead with plans for a second tier competition to launch in 2024 for nations such as Georgia, Samoa and Tonga, which in an ideal world, would see promotion to the top tier if it materialises. He added: “We’re not going to wait until 2026 to create some of the emerging nations competitions that sit around that, because we can put those pieces in place now. And in all honesty, putting those pieces in place helps to drive the wider discussion.”