World Rugby Council vote in favour of major overhaul in men’s international calendar

New competition consisting of two divisions of 12 will be played bi-annually between World Cup and Lions years from 2026

Italy versus Uruguay in the pool stage of this year's World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Italy versus Uruguay in the pool stage of this year's World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE men’s international rugby calendar is set for a major overhaul starting in 2026 with the launch of a new 24-team tournament which will involve two divisions of 12 teams. The top division will include the 10 sides from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, plus two as yet unconfirmed others expected to be Japan and Fiji ,with promotion and relegation starting from 2030. 

The new – yet to be officially named  competition will be played in July and November on a bi-annual basis between World Cup and Lions years, replacing the current summer and autumn international windows. To create space in the calendar, the Six Nations will be reduced from seven weeks to six by removing one of its two rest weeks, while the November window will be extended from three to four weeks, which required a reform of World Rugby’s Regulation 9 governing international player release.

World Rugby has also promised a significant uplift in the number of cross-over matches between unions in the respective divisions in the two other years, “providing performance nations with annual competition certainty against high-performance unions”.


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The new plans were voted through by World Rugby’s Council on Tuesday morning. It is understood the vote in favour of the motion was 41-10 – just two more than the 39 (75 percent) needed to secure approval, with Argentina (led by former Pumas scrum-half and former World Rugby vice-chairman  Agustín Pichot, who returned to the Council in May)  spearheading the opposition, having confirmed prior to the meeting that they would cast their three votes against the proposal because the impact on the second tier would signal the “death of rugby”.

France were reportedly the last nation to hold out on supporting the concept. The French Federation (FFR) was concerned about the impact on the Top 14, with the November international window being extended from three to four weeks.

World Rugby are to confirm more details later today [Tuesday], but the plan appears to be for each northern-hemisphere team to play a southern-hemisphere rival once, either home or away.

To reduce travel time, the southern-hemisphere nations would be divided into two blocks, with the lowest-ranked team in each block required to play their July Tests on neutral territory. It appears New Zealand, Australia and Fiji will be grouped together, with South Africa, Japan and Argentina to form the other touring block.

For example, in the first year, Scotland, Wales and France could go on a July tour and play against New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. England, Ireland and Italy would face the other three. Then in November, the fixtures would cross over, with Scotland, Wales and France hosting South Africa, Argentina and Japan. The top two teams after those six fixtures would then meet in a grand final.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “It is fitting that we finish Rugby World Cup 2023, the sport’s greatest celebration of togetherness, with the sport’s greatest feat of togetherness. Agreement on the men’s and women’s global calendars and their content is the most significant development in the sport since the game went professional. An historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success.

“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2026. An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all. 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. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their spirit of collaboration. Today, we have achieved something special.”

 

This new competition is being introduced in conjunction with an expansion of Rugby World Cup to 24 teams in 2027, “providing more qualification opportunities for more teams and regional competitions”. The new format will feature six pools of four teams, with a round of 16  consisting of the top two teams from each pool plus the best four third-placed teams – added prior to the quarter-finals. This will enable the tournament window to be reduced from seven to six weeks.

The Council also supported World Rugby’s desire to undertake the pool draw as late as possible – and  Beaumont later revealed that it will take place in January 2026.

Beaumont added: “If we are to become a truly global sport, we must create greater relevance, opportunity and competitiveness to attract new fans and grow value.

“This incredible Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament has demonstrated the passion and potential that lies beyond the top 10 or 12 nations, if we think big and think inclusive. It is not acceptable to accept the status quo. Not acceptable to do nothing.

“The decision to expand Rugby World Cup 2027 to 24 teams is logical and the right thing to do. Underpinned by a new global calendar that increases certainty and opportunity, we are focused on raising standards, closing the gaps and creating a spectacle that fans demand to see. With its love of sport and major events, Australia is the perfect place to do just that.”


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About David Barnes 4031 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

16 Comments

  1. I’d have thought amateur rugby players and their families would end up pretty bemused about being asked to put rugby ahead of their summer holiday plans, weekends outings in good weather, exam revision, cricket, golf etc etc.

    Of course, the prospect of starting pre season in the cold and dark of winter will cheer them up …

  2. WR is not fit for purpose. This is bad but what they wanted worse.

    It is overkill, devalues the RWC, excess travel on players not to mention carbon footprint of a possible summer of 3 weekend consecutive games in 3 different continents. Squeeze the 6N down to 6wks favour the bigger unions again. I’m amazed if player unions supported this, never mind tier 2 unions who will get less than an extra game a year each against tier 1 out of this – and I’ll bet a certain couple of SH unions don’t provide any of them

  3. Most Tier 2 Nations are feeling increasingly marginalised, languishing behind a revenue-generating concept that could quite soon kill the goose that lays rugby’s golden eggs – through excessive supply of the product, thereby de-valuing the worth of the international game.

    Market saturation coming to a media platform near you, via the groupthink that has permeated every seat within the WR gravy train!

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    • Weirdly, the tier 2 sides you are talking about could have stopped the nations league going ahead.

      The 10 votes against the plan were Argentina, Uruguay, Rugby South America, Rugby Europe and 1 of Rugby Asia’s 2 votes (the number of votes distributed to different nations or blocs is a bit odd)

      Two more votes would have meant the proposal didn’t reach the 75% supermajority needed to be adopted.

      Georgia, Samoa, USA, Canada, Oceana, Africa and North America all supported the plan.

      I don’t know what this means except some tier 2 nations seem to oppose the plan in public but votes for it anyway

  4. More games against each other for the top tier and less games against the top sides for the rest. Pichot is right.

    Plus more games for players does little for player welfare.

    Self-centred greed from the top nations as always.

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  5. Sounds like it undermines the WC somewhat but probably a good thing for Japan, Fiji et al.

    TBF the Six Nations has prospered into what’s pretty much the biggest tournament outside the WC, and I can understand the protection of it, but at the same time it’s stopping the sport from growing outwith. That thought that SCO, WAL (or ENG nowadays) dropping out of that premier fixture list is almost unthinkable.

    I’m not in the coal mine of rugby I just enjoy watching it and played a bit when younger. I think a smart step would be making the lower levels a Summer sport in Scotland and the NH at least.

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    • Can you tell us when summer in Scotland is Richard?

      The weather patterns we are seeing are causing significant rainfall and exceptional temperatures.

      Those clubs that share with cricket would have to find other pitches. Maintenance on the pitches would have to stop to allow play.

      Let’s just say I’m unconvinced about this idea.

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      • Sure. It’s June, July and August as per standard definitions.

        You’ll very unlikely see -2C on a Saturday afternoon in Summer.

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      • It’s not rugby’s job to be too bothered about cricket. Also, other sports, such as tennis and golf, seem to grasp the summer concept fairly well and rely on its annual appearance to predict future revenues.

        We might even pick up some casual fans who didn’t know they were looking to break a football habit.

    • Lots of traditional objections to summer rugby, many of which are entirely valid, but it’s defo worth a debate. Not sure there is that much of a crossover with cricket these days and generally it’s easier to water a dry summer pitch than defrost a frozen winter one. Participation figures are collapsing so we should at least have a discussion. Personally I can see both sides on this as youth rugby will be challenging over summer hols but we need to start considering radical solutions to problems that aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

      • My Objection to summer rugby is winter is a bleak enough time with dark nights and nothing much to look forward to. Its rugby on a Saturday afternoon at Balgray or Old/New Annieland, Hughenden or Burnbrae, that keeps me going

      • I would wonder what the amateur players think about using that time of year instead. Sort of amazed cricket was even mentioned.

        Crowds would surely improve, maybe a barbecue atmosphere and some Friday night games.

        Especially in these financially constrained times, who is wanting to part with a tenner to watch their local amateur team in freezing conditions when they could do it comfortably at another time of year.

      • That’s the spirit guys. F other sports.

        By my last count cricket has a bigger player base than rugby in Scotland.

        If it was that easy to move we would have done it by now. How we fit in playing 15s with training and running touch rugby all in the summer months would be a fascinating problem to solve.

        And what will they play on? Do you think pitches look after themselves?

      • Your cricket love is a bit worrying. These are separate sports.

        I never played cricket growing up. Maybe it’s a new thing, some sort of mindful connection between wanting to play cricket and rugby.

        Playing numbers suggests 30K+ rugby players and half as many cricket players. Not that it really matters.

        In Scotland we want greater inclusion. You’re going to get more people interested in a favourable climate than not. Seems a reasonable shout.

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