The World Rugby Council has today approved a dramatic switch up in the rugby calendar.
Entering the latter stage of their 200th year, the organisation claim that these changes mark a “new era of opportunity, certainty and growth for the game”.
These changes will hope to see a greater unification in the global game, with more fixtures being made available for multiple tier 1 and 2 countries. The new Nations Cup will combine the best from either Hemisphere to allow the likes of England, New Zealand, South Africa, France and others to face each other on the much more regular.
The inclusion of Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and USA in a new Pacific Nations cup and the prospect of the nations cup having a second division is also designed to provide more fixture for the sides on the periphery of Tier 1 competitions.
The feedback from fans has been the lack of opportunity provided for Tier 2 teams to face Tier 1 sides. There has, however, been the increased rate of 24 teams being included ahead of the 2027 World Cup.
Here are the details of the updated World Rugby Council decisions:
- Establishment of an enhanced global calendar for men’s rugby from 2026 with clearer international windows, including confirmation of the release window for Rugby World Cup 2027 (Australia).
- Expansion of Rugby World Cup to 24 teams in 2027, providing more qualification opportunities for more teams and regional competitions.
- Launch of a bi-annual new international competition from 2026, comprising a top division of 12 teams (Six Nations unions, SANZAAR unions and two further unions to be selected via a process run by SANZAAR), and a second division run by World Rugby of 12 teams with promotion and relegation commencing from 2030. Played in the July and November international release windows, it will provide crucial opportunities (and certainty of fixtures) for unions currently outside of the existing annual competitions, and in turn provide opportunities for unions and regional associations through to the second division.
- Launch of new annual expanded Pacific Nations Cup competition in 2024, featuring Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and USA with home fixtures and Japan and USA alternating as finals hosts, guaranteeing a minimum of three additional matches a year in addition to the new international competition and cross-over fixtures.
- First-ever dedicated international release windows (regional release window of seven weeks and global release window of eight weeks) from 2026.
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.”