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31 Jan 2020

World Rugby devising plans for global second-tier competition

World Rugby, the international governing body for rugby union, is looking to introduce a global competition for national teams outside the elite annual competitions in the wake of the collapse of plans for the Nations Championship.

World Rugby held a workshop in London last week to explore a competition model for tier-two nations earmarked to come into effect in 2021.

This followed a Rugby World Cup 2019 debrief last December which reflected on the success of that competition, in which hosts Japan became the first Asian team to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament.

The proposed new competition is aimed at giving teams that do not participate in the annual Six Nations in Europe or The Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere access to regular competitive matches.

In a statement, World Rugby said: “The key outcome from the meeting was alignment in principle on exploring a competition model that will bring greater context and structure to the international calendar for emerging nations, providing a merit-based process for linking the pathway from the regional tournaments in to a high performance level global competition.”

The full outcomes will be presented to the World Rugby Regional Rugby Committee and Executive Committees in March for a full consultation with a recommended model to be considered by the World Rugby Council in May.

The workshop was attended by members of World Rugby and high performance and coaching staff from nations including Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Namibia, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Spain, Tonga, Uruguay and the USA, plus representatives from all six World Rugby regions, the Six Nations, Sanzaar, which oversees The Rugby Championship, and the International Rugby Players body.

Last year, World Rugby was unsuccessful with plans to introduce a global Nations Championship in 2022. This would have featured a top division of 12 countries that would have played each other once in a calendar year, either in the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship or the summer and autumn test windows, with the top two teams meeting in a showpiece final.

The proposal was backed by a financial guarantee of £6.1 billion ($7.9 billion) over 12 years from Infront, the international sports marketing agency, but the necessary unanimous support from the 10 leading nations was not forthcoming, with some northern hemisphere countries concerned about scheduling and promotion and relegation to and from a second division.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has claimed that a reinforced international competition structure with a focus on unions outside the major annual tournaments will be one of the pillars of his campaign for re-election in May.

Following this week’s workshop, Beaumont said: “Enhancing competition opportunity, meaning and competitiveness for our unions outside of the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship is critical to the future growth, prosperity and sustainability of the global game.

“We must evolve and examine both opportunities and challenges from the fans and marketplace's perspectives, and not solely the performance imperative. It was great to see so much buy-in from the high performance personnel, coaches, players and chief executives – all agreed that meaningful change is required.

“This hugely productive and positive meeting demonstrated the collective alignment and excitement across the game to achieve something special that will truly enable us to better support and sustain the needs of our unions, driving a more competitive global game and Rugby World Cup, which is great for unions, players, fans, broadcasters and commercial partners. I would like to thank everyone for their full contributions.”

Meanwhile, Global Rapid Rugby, the competition involving non-elite clubs from the Asia-Pacific region, is adding a Chinese team for the 2020 season.

The China Lions, based in Shanghai, are a joint venture between the Chinese Rugby Football Association and New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty.

They will join Australia’s Western Force, Fijian Latui, Manuma Samoa, Malaysian Valke, Hong Kong’s South China Tigers.

GRR launched in 2018 with an exhibition season, followed by a first competitive tournament last year.