Northern and Southern hemisphere sides to collide in new rugby world league
The league structure, which will only include games that take place in the summer and autumn windows, is set to be introduced in 2026
Rugby chiefs have agreed to a world league blueprint in which a Northern versus Southern hemisphere “grand final” will take place every two years and the Six Nations is ring-fenced.
The league structure, which will only include games that take place in the summer and autumn windows, is set to be introduced in 2026 and will be formed by two groups of six from each hemisphere – namely the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides. It is also expected to include Japan and Fiji.
The new format means that:
1The current format of the Six Nations will be ring-fenced, ending any hope South Africa held of joining the European competition.
2Northern hemisphere sides will play three southern opponents away from home in the July window, ending the traditional summer tours of two or three Tests against one host country.
3The fixtures will be replicated at the home venues of the Northern hemisphere nations in the November window, with the top team from each pool facing each other in a grand final, and play-off games for the others.
4 The tournament will be held every two years from 2026, with fixtures rotated so every side play each other in a two-tournament cycle.
5From 2030, promotion and relegation may be introduced to give a pathway from a second-tier competition expected to be launched next year for nations including Georgia, Samoa and Tonga.
6All stakeholders are confident it will not diminish the status of the World Cup, and it will be marketed as a battle of the hemispheres.
7The future of the British and Irish Lions tours will be secured and in Lions years countries will be able to stage traditional tours as normal, and include more fixtures against tier-two countries.
It is understood that negotiations, which began in March 2020, are now entering a final consultation phase with the clubs and players’ representatives to ensure it has complete alignment and buy-in for a newly structured global season.
Senior sources have indicated the league is on course to be unveiled by the start of the World Cup in France this September.
“The fundamentals have been agreed,” one source close to the negotiations said. “All key stakeholders have been involved and the structure of the season, the rugby and player welfare issues were resolved. It’s just tying down some of the outstanding commercial issues. We are just about over the line.”
The stakeholders, which have included World Rugby and players’ representatives, hope that by adding a competitive narrative to the summer and autumn Tests, there will be a significant uplift in the broadcasting and commercial values for both hemispheres.
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