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World Rugby confirms new bi-annual competition and expanded RWC

NEWS: The World Rugby Council has approved big changes to the men’s and women’s rugby calendars, which has been described as the most significant overhaul of the international game since the sport went professional.

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On Tuesday, World Rugby released a statement explaining a new global calendar which will come into effect from 2026. It will include “new competitions and increased opportunity”.

One of those new competitions in the men’s calendar will feature both Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides, as well as two further unions to be selected by SANZAAR.

A second division run by World Rugby will be made up of 12 teams with promotion and relegation will commence from 2030.

The World Cup will also be expanded from 20 to 24 teams in 2027.

The new RWC format will feature six pools of four teams, with a round of 16 added prior to the quarterfinals. This will enable the tournament window to be reduced from seven to six weeks.

“The World Rugby Council has approved transformational reform of the global men’s and women’s rugby calendars, a seminal moment for the sport that marks a new era of opportunity, certainty and growth for the game, a fitting finale to its 200th birthday year,” the World Rugby statement reads,

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“Reform of Regulation 9 governing international player release has paved the way for the global club and international game to complement each other with clearly defined windows of release for international duties, as well as enhanced player welfare outcomes in the form of Player Load Guidelines.

“Shaped through close collaboration with the players and stakeholders from across the whole sport, including domestic and international competitions, regions, unions, the adjustments have been driven by a game-wide commitment to prioritise player welfare while supporting desired competitiveness increases across performance unions.

“In the women’s game, the decision means clearly defined global and regional player release periods for the first time with no domestic competition overlap, opening the way to a harmonious structure that promotes opportunity and growth ahead of an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup in 2025.

“In the men’s game, new competition structures coupled with an increased level of cross-over fixtures between the high performance and performance unions, will deliver long-term certainty of content for the first time, supporting increases in competitiveness, interest and value ahead of a landmark Rugby World Cup in the USA in 2031.

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“Together, these developments crucially allow for better management of player load and overall welfare in the game, with the development of new Player Load Guidelines and ongoing expert input to oversee the development and evolution of the guidelines working with all stakeholders.

Below are the important notes from World Rugby’s release:

First-ever global calendar for men’s rugby with new competitions and increased opportunity

  • 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.
  • The competition provides players and fans with compelling matches, to build audiences and value for all.
  • A significant uplift in the number of cross-over 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.
  • 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.
  • The global men’s calendar provides additional clarity for elite league and cross-border club competitions, supporting value growth investment opportunities for all.

RWC 2027 at a glance

– Rugby World Cup 2027 will be hosted between 1 October and 13 November.

– The tournament will be expanded from 20 to 24 teams.

– New reduced six-week (seven-weekend) Rugby World Cup window approved, supporting welfare, entertainment and value imperatives – pool phase reduced from five to four weeks.

– Round of 16 to be introduced with top two teams from each pool automatically qualifying along with the best four third-placed teams.

– Decision provides certainty for all stakeholders and maintains Rugby World Cup’s position as the jewel in the crown of the international calendar.

– Details of the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2027 will be determined following a full review of France 2023 and consultation with unions and regions.

First-ever global calendar for women’s rugby with dedicated release windows

  • First-ever dedicated international release windows (regional release window of seven weeks and global release window of eight weeks) from 2026.
  • Clarity of release periods for club/league and cross-border competitions, to allow certainty of planning and investment.
  • A commitment to more effectively manage player load and welfare in the fast-evolving women’s game, working with all stakeholders
  • A framework to review the women’s global calendar and international competition structures on an ongoing basis to recognise that fast-evolving environment and opportunity.
  • First-ever global calendar for men’s rugby with new competitions and increased opportunity

According to the statement, the announcement “follows extensive consultation with the professional game, including regions, unions, domestic and international competitions, and detailed evaluation of the playing, commercial and fan landscape.”

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont described the reform as a “historic moment”.

“It is fitting that we finish Rugby World Cup 2023, the sports’ greatest celebration of togetherness, with the sport’s greatest feat of togetherness,” Beaumont said in the statement.

“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 up collectively for success.

“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2025 [women] and 2026 [men]. 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.”

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