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RFU's Nation Cup plan gives hope to 'minnows'

NEWS: Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney said discussions about a controversial Nations Cup tournament were in place as he remained confident about his ability to lead one of the sport’s wealthiest governing bodies.

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The idea for the controversial competition was originally batted down in 2019 as it was criticised by some claiming it would create an even bigger gulf between the globe’s leading sides and emerging nations.

During the ongoing World Cup teams such as Namibia and Romania have been on the wrong end of heavy defeats by sides who compete in annual competitions like the Six Nations and Rugby Championship.

“Two competitions of 12 teams each which give the emerging nations a much wider range of potential fixtures,” Sweeney told reporters after two days of talks with World Rugby in Paris.

“And a greater opportunity to play against the more established competition,” he added.

Sweeney has been at the helm of the RFU during a tumultuous past few months on and off the field.

Four professional clubs in England have gone to the wall, Eddie Jones was sacked as head coach and there was a first Test defeat to Fiji weeks before the start of the World Cup.

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Former British Olympic Association CEO Sweeney defended his record in his current role.

“I feel I am the right person to do that [the job],” Sweeney.

“It’s probably for others to say if they don’t think I am.

“I feel I am, given my experience, the balance of business and sport.”

‘Core group’

Last week, second-tier Jersey followed historic domestic sides Wasps, Worcester Warriors and London Irish in announcing they would cease to trade due to financial problems.

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“It’s clearly a situation that is very concerning for us,” Sweeney said.

“The ideal outcome for this would be another investor coming in.

“The last business plan submission I think in June, Jersey were projecting to make a loss but they also had plans in place in terms of growth and their future direction and investors that led us to believe that things were under control.”

Earlier this week, The Times reported that 20 England internationals will be offered hybrid deals with the RFU and Premiership Rugby, who run the English top flight, in an agreement worth £128 million ($154 million).

Traditionally, English clubs pay the contracts but they are facing growing instability, unlike the system in place in Ireland and New Zealand.

“We’ve been talking about the number of 25, for quite some time now, maybe two or three years in terms of what it would take to have a core group of players that you manage through the system,” Sweeney said.

“At this stage it isn’t finally done.

“We should be in a position to be able to talk about that in more detail before the end of the year.”

England are on course to reach the World Cup quarterfinals and face Samoa in their final group game on Saturday.

Sweeney looked further ahead than the current tournament with Steve Borthwick having only been named head coach in December.

“We haven’t set particular targets after this World Cup in terms of how many Six Nations we want to win in 10 years,” Sweeney said.

“We will have targets about where we want our rankings to be, in terms of how many Six Nations we expect to win but I can’t give those to you right now.”

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