The long-awaited new global men’s competition outside of the Rugby World Cup was approved today to start in 2026.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont hailed it as “an historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success.”
But South America Rugby president Sebastian Pineyrua warned before the vote: “It’s the death of rugby.”
Also, World Rugby approved 24 teams for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia, the first expansion of the tournament since 1999. A reduced four-week pool stage will lead to a new knockout round of 16. Where the four new teams will come from is to be determined.
The new men’s competition, sometimes called the Nations Championship, Nations League or World League, has 12 teams.
It will pit the Six Nations sides — England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales — against the Rugby Championship sides — Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa — plus two teams tipped to be Japan and Fiji.
They will meet in the usual July and November test windows every two years from 2026.
A second division of 12 teams — yet to be determined — run by World Rugby will start in 2026, with promotion and relegation from 2030.
The annual Pacific Nations Cup will be expanded again next year to include Japan, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the United States and Canada. The last time all six featured was in 2019, and before that 2015.
South America Rugby previously said it turned down an invite to join the Pacific Nations Cup because it expected the competition’s value to diminish again when Japan and Fiji are tipped to leave for the new Nations Championship in 2026.
All of the tier two teams at the ongoing World Cup in France begged for more matches with the tier one teams from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship to increase their competitiveness and level the playing field at rugby’s showpiece event.
World Rugby promised on Tuesday “a significant uplift in the number of crossover matches between unions in the respective divisions are included in the global calendar in the two other years, providing performance nations with annual competition certainty against high performance unions.”
But World Rugby didn’t elaborate and the new competitions will reduce already limited access by tier two teams to the tier ones before the next Rugby World Cup in 2027.
Only two weeks ago, at the end of the pool stage in France where the likes of Fiji, Portugal, Samoa and debutant Chile shone, Beaumont said the new international calendar “will benefit the many, not the few.”
“The likes of Portugal, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, Chile and Georgia may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten,” Beaumont said. “We must, and will, do everything we can to provide greater certainty and opportunity of regular high-level competition for these teams.”
South America’s Pineyrua doubted the new global competitions will help tier two teams, and said they will enrich only the tier one teams.
“It will kill rugby,” he told the Daily Mail last week. “It will be impossible to compete with those teams in four or five years. They’re going to go up and the others will go down.”
Former World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot also told the Daily Mail he believed “the old boys club” of tier one teams were looking out only for themselves.
“You have the Six Nations in one corner and the Rugby Championship in another. It’s self-preservation, survival,” Pichot said. “The system is done to protect the core. They have to see that bigger is better but they won’t take that risk. But they are already at risk. They are in the red (financially).
“This is the rule of insanity — keep doing the same and getting the same outcome. What is the point of Uruguay arriving in four years if they don’t play one relevant game in that time? In the first week in 2027 (World Cup) they’re going to get smashed. Then they will have a decent game and everyone will say it’s great to see the colors and passion of Uruguay. It’s the same every four years.”
Women’s international rugby will for the first time from 2026 have dedicated test windows, seven weeks for regional competitions like the Women’s Six Nations, and eight weeks for global matches.
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