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World Rugby to launch new international competition from 2026

The governing body has also given the go-ahead to the expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams in time for Australia 2027.

Duncan Bech
Tuesday 24 October 2023 19:04 BST
World Rugby is set to shake-up the international calendar (Bradley Collyer/PA).
World Rugby is set to shake-up the international calendar (Bradley Collyer/PA). (PA Wire)

World Rugby has approved plans to set up a new international league competition as part of part of a radical shake-up of the global calendar.

The bi-annual tournament is to be launched in 2026 and will be made up of two divisions of 12 teams, with promotion and relegation commencing from 2030. Matches will be staged in the July and November international windows.

In addition to a competition that has been tentatively named the ‘Nations Cup’, World Rugby’s council has given the go-ahead to the expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams in time for Australia 2027.

The revised format will consist of six pools of four teams and will see the creation of a round of 16 to take place before the quarter-finals.

The top two teams from each group will automatically qualify, as well as the best four third-placed teams.

Even though the number of sides is to be increased, the adjustment means the World Cup can be reduced from seven to six weeks from October 1 to November 13, 2027, while providing the same number of minimum rest days.

The draw for the next competition will take place in January 2026 in the hope of avoiding the lopsided groups seen in France over the last two months.

As part of the changes, the international window for November has been lifted from three to four weekends and the Six Nations will lose one of its fallow weeks.

It has yet to be decided which break week of the Six Nations will be removed but from 2026 the competition will reduced from seven to six weeks to free up an international weekend for the Nations Cup in November.

The top division of the Nations Cup will be run by Six Nations and SANZAR unions while the second division will be overseen by World Rugby.

The competition will culminate in a final between teams from the northern and southern hemispheres.

World Rugby state that the new competition structure, which enshrines British and Irish Lions tours in their existing format, will also provide an increased number of fixtures between the game’s heavyweights and emerging nations.

“A new era is about to begin for our sport. An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.

“An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will supercharge the development of the sport beyond its traditional and often self-imposed boundaries. All boats will rise together.”

World Rugby’s 51-member council voted on the changes on Tuesday but only just reached the required 75 per cent majority.

“Certain countries will have their own views on matters,” Beaumont said.

“I would like to think that around the room there might have been a few dissenters but on the whole there was a pretty significant vote in favour of these new competitions.”

Criticism of the new format centres around not enough being done for less established nations, especially after the likes of Portugal and Uruguay have surpassed expectations at the World Cup, but World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin sees it as a radical improvement to the status quo.

“Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it a hell of a lot better than the current situation? Absolutely,” Gilpin said.

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