Rugby's new 'World League' to kick off in 2026

Sat, Jul 1, 2023, 8:31 AM
by Reuters
The Wallabies hosted England in their first international of 2022.

A new rugby union competition between tier one nations from the northern and southern hemisphere will be played every alternate year from 2026 to add a competitive edge to the July and November international windows, officials have confirmed.

A 'World League' has been mooted for some time seeking to extract more revenue from the international windows and bring "context" to what have been friendly fixtures played traditionally in the southern hemisphere in July and in the north in November.

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Although no format has been confirmed by organisers for the new competition, reports suggest Six Nations sides England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales will be in one pool, and teams that make up the Rugby Championship - Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa - will be in the other along with two invited guests, one of which is likely to be Japan.

Teams from the north would travel south for three Tests in July and then host three more games in November.

The Six Nations will remain in its current February-March position on the calendar and the Rugby Championship will still be played in August-September.

"SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby are working in partnership, alongside global rugby stakeholders, to bring to life a new international rugby competition that will that will be played in the existing July and November test windows," SANZAAR said in a statement.

"The creation of the new competition has been a collective process from the sport, including World Rugby, Unions, key leagues, competitions, and crucially, the International Rugby Players.

"Set to begin in 2026, the new elite competition will feature each of the four SANZAAR Rugby Championship teams (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and the Six Nations Rugby sides (England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales).

"Two spaces have been reserved for invitational Unions to join the SANZAAR teams. A transparent selection process will be managed by SANZAAR, supported by World Rugby and the International Rugby Players, to determine these two invitational Unions.   "Owned and operated by SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby, the elite competition will take place in alternating years, outside of the British & Irish Lions Tours and Rugby World Cup." 

World Rugby will also create a second-tier competition "to strengthen the development pathway for emerging nations", with promotion and relegation between the two divisions.

"The introduction of the new elite international competition is testament to the strong ambition from all parties, motivated by delivering context and a stronger narrative around the July and November windows, that can genuinely excite players and bring new fans to the game," the statement continued.

"The impact this will have on the game will be to drive its growth and long-term sustainability.

"This runs alongside the work being done to add greater clarity and balance to the club and international calendar; a process Six Nations Rugby and SANZAAR remain committed to help deliver."