Revealed: World Rugby's blueprint for new global tournament
Rugby chiefs have agreed a new world league blueprint that will see a northern versus southern hemisphere ‘grand final’ every two years, as well as the ringfencing of the Six Nations Championship, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
The new league structure, which will only include games that take place in the summer and autumn windows, is set to be introduced from 2026 and will be formed by two groups of six teams from each hemisphere – namely the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides, wth Japan and Fiji also expected to be included.
The new format means that:
The current format of the Six Nations Championship will be ring-fenced, ending any hope South Africa held of joining the European competition or for the introduction of promotion and relegation.
Northern hemisphere sides will play three southern opponents away from home in the July window, bringing to an end the traditional summer tours of two or three Tests against one host country.
The fixtures will be replicated at the home venues of the northern hemisphere nations in the November window, with the top team from each pool facing each other in a grand final, and ranking play-off games for the others.
The tournament will be held every two years from 2026, with fixtures rotated so that every side plays against each other over a two-tournament cycle
From 2030, a promotion and relegation could be introduced to provide a pathway from a second-tier competition which is expected to be launched next year for nations including Georgia, Samoa and Tonga.
All stakeholders are confident it will not diminish the status of the Rugby World Cup, and it will be marketed as a battle of the hemispheres.
The future of the British and Irish Lions tours will be secured and in Lions years countries able to stage traditional tours as normal, and include more fixtures against tier two countries to enhance their development.
It is understood that negotiations, which began in March 2020, are now entering a final consultation phase with the clubs and players’ representatives to ensure it has complete alignment and buy-in for a newly structured global season.
Senior sources have indicated that the new league is on course to be unveiled by the start of the Rugby World Cup in France this September.
“The fundamentals have been agreed,” said one source close to the negotiations. "All key stakeholders have been involved and the structure of the season, the rugby and player welfare issues were resolved some time ago. It's just tying down some of the outstanding commercial issues, but we are well advanced on those as well. We are just about over the line."
The stakeholders, which have included World Rugby and players' representatives, hope that by adding a competitive narrative to the summer and autumn Test series, there will be a significant uplift in the broadcasting and commercial values for both hemispheres.
The Six Nations already aggregated their broadcasting and commercial revenues as part of a deal known as ‘Project Light’ which would make a similar arrangement with their Sanzaar counterparts.
Central to the negotiations from the northern hemisphere perspective was excluding the Six Nations from the new world league, which proved to be the major stumbling block of talks about the failed ‘Nations Championship’ concept in 2019.
“It was imperative that we didn’t mess around one of the major crown jewels of the game and risked that for a very hypothetical benefit,” said another senior source.
“South Africa made public their interest in joining the Six Nations, but it was never up for discussion. We have never entertained expansion.
“This has been about finding an appropriate solution on the July and November windows, if we can do that it will be perfect development on the global scale for the game and find right equilibrium for the international game going forward.
“The new tournament will add a competitive north -v south narrative, which will not affect the World Cup or Lions tours and there is also the possibility for emerging nations to participate in it through a development phase below so that there could be some, some pathway between the two at some point would be in the great interest of the game.
“All the stakeholders have been involved so there are no surprises for anyone.”
One of the details still under discussion include the possibility of staging the grand final at a high-profile neutral venue to enhance the profile of the league and grow a new audience, with Hong Kong one possibility.
It is understood one of the outstanding issues is also the timing of the Rugby Championship in the new global season.
“Anything that improves the experience, the narrative should drive value for the fans and if it does then there will be incremental value for the game, not just in our nations but beyond,” added another source. “This will be critical to help fund the game to compete with other sports and other forms of entertainment.”