Monday, March 4, 2024

North versus south ‘grand final’ the crown jewel of new world league

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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.

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