Radical 'League of Nations' among options for post-2019 Test calendar

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

A radical ‘League of Nations’ that would pit the top 12 Test countries against each other in November each year is among the options being considered post-2019 as World Rugby looks to add more meaning to every Test.

Reports emerged on Monday morning that World Rugby vice-chairman Gus Pichot pitched the idea in July and World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper hinted that such a move could be on the cards, speaking to media on Sunday.

Gosper said the international body was looking into a range of options as it bids to add importance to every Test played.

“At the moment 56 per cent of the games in international rugby in the world are friendlies and that's what we're looking at and maybe swinging it back towards more meaningful, competitive games and that may be even with interaction between north and south," he said.

"There's a number of models out there but I think ultimately (a North vs South competition) would help add more meaning to a Six Nations or a (Rugby) Championship so it could only be good news for everyone."

The World Rugby boss was adamant there would be no change to the new calendar announced in March 2017 despite Pichot’s public criticism of the structure in recent weeks.

Pichot said the game could face ruin if it did not revisit the agreement but Gosper dismissed that notion.

“We're looking at a number of different, potential models but certainly the (overall) calendar isn't something we're seeking to change," he said.

England made it past Wales at Twickenham. Photo: Getty ImagesThe ‘League of Nations’ is slated to be played in November from 2020, rotating between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, with the top 12 Test nations split into three pools for the competition.

Based on the current World Rugby rankings, the tournament would feature, New Zealand, Ireland, Wales, England, South Africa, Scotland, Australia, France, Argentina, Fiji, Japan and Tonga.

Gosper said there were a number of options being considered to help boost the significance of Tests and in turn national unions' financial situations.

“What's important is that we increase the value of the international game,” he said.

“We're not particularly looking at a different calendar and changing that calendar.

“We're looking at how can we give more meaning to international rugby to ensure that the values are high, to ensure that many of these nations which struggle with their balance sheets in some ways can move forward on a healthier financial basis.

“That's what we're looking at. In terms of meaningful games to us are valuable games.”

While an annual global tournament might help boost interest in every Test played, concerns over the Southern Hemisphere talent drain that affects national sides on both halves of the globe are unlikely to be addressed.

Australia and South Africa have long been affected by players moving to Europe but it's becoming an increasingly significant issue in New Zealand as well, with a host of players taking up French deals in their prime.

The influx of foreign players into France has become a concern for French heavyweights as much as Southern Hemisphere figures and FFR CEO Bernard Laporte has moved to restrict foreign marquees but the cash they attract and almost non-existent salary cap means Europe is still an attractive destination.

Bernard Laporte was frustrated after the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid process. Photo: AFPGosper said World Rugby wasn't considering any intervention to limit the Southern Hemisphere player drain.

A cap on international player movement had been floated for competitions like France's Top 14 but Gosper said those kind of measures were unlikely to be rolled out to stop players from moving to Europe.

"We see the number of players that are England eligible in that particular market creates less inflow of foreigners than the French market does but we even see moves, because the French themselves are worried about their own performance in international rugby, to make sure there are higher levels of French-qualifiable players.

"Beyond that, you can't really change the quotas from an employment basis in Europe as simply as you've just suggested."

As for Australia's domestic competition, Gosper said SANZAAR's move to 'simplify' Super Rugby was one in the right direction.

"It’s really not my place to comment on Super Rugby, it’s a SANZAAR property so I think they’ve made some moves to simplify it and that’s always good for spectators and audience to have a better understanding, the less complicated the better.

"That’s the way we proceed in all our competitions so if that’s the direction they’re heading in then then they’re probably giving themselves better shape for the future."