Nations Championship idea revived
REPORT: World Rugby has reportedly drawn up four separate plans to revive a proposed Nations Championship following the 2023 World Cup.
The Nations Championship, a multi-tiered international competition designed to provide extra and more meaningful fixtures in between World Cups, was first proposed by the game’s global governing body in 2019.
It was also hoped the concept would provide a pathway for developing rugby nations to play against the world’s top teams more regularly.
Other benefits outlined by World Rugby included financial certainty for unions and harmonisation with club rugby, but the proposal was ultimately rejected when a unanimous agreement couldn’t be found on the format.
Critics had also argued that staging such a competition – which would crown an overall, cross-hemisphere champion each year – on an annual basis would devalue the World Cup, but World Rugby hasn’t given up on making the competition a reality.
Speaking to Stuff, Pacific Rugby Players chairman Hale T-Pole revealed that four different models are being discussed on how to stage the tournament.
World Rugby’s initial concept had the rugby’s leading nations split into two conferences, the European Conference and the Rest of the World Conference, each of which was made up of three divisions.
The top division in each conference would have been comprised of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship teams, with the two highest-ranked non-European teams (which, at the time, were Japan and Fiji) pencilled in to join the Rugby Championship sides.
Each conference’s second division was planned to also have six teams made up of the next best nations from their respective regions, while the third division of each conference was planned to be split into four pools of four third-tier countries.
Interlinking each division were promotion and relegation play-offs, which would have provided teams from lower divisions the chance to play high-ranking teams on a frequent basis.
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The threat of relegation from the Six Nations proved to be a sticking point for some of Europe’s leading unions, though, which resulted in the Nations Championship concept being axed.
That is until now, as T-Pole told Stuff that revamped formats of the Nations Championship have been tabled by rugby stakeholders ahead of key talks next month.
“We’re currently talking about the restructuring of the championship, the global comp, with option 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B,” the former Tongan international said.
“It could be a 12-country comp, or eight-eight, the top eight from the southern hemisphere and top eight from the north.
“Then you’ve got a top four-top four, with an eight-team tier two competition, or whatever they are going to call it.
“So we’re currently in discussions with World Rugby from an International Rugby Players perspective and all our members. I think November will be exciting times for these discussions.”
“I’m just like, ‘Let us play some games, man, we need more games’.”
T-Pole’s frustrations regarding a lack of fixtures for Pacific Island nations could be alleviated even if the Nations Championship fails to get off the ground for a second time as he said a “Pacific Rim” competition was also being considered.
The Pacific Nations Cup – last comprised of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Japan, the USA and Canada – hasn’t been played since 2019, much to the discontent of leading rugby figures from some of those countries.
USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young expressed concerns about a lack of meaningful competition for the Eagles in August, two months prior to the announcement that the United States will bid for the 2027 and 2031 World Cups.
The Eagles paid the price for their lack of competitive tests in recent times as they were thrashed 104-14 by the All Blacks in Washington DC over the weekend in a match not too dissimilar to New Zealand’s 102-0 annihilation of Tonga in July.
Blowouts like those may be a thing of the past, though, if the Pacific Nations Cup returns to the fold, something of which T-Pole is hopeful of.
“It’s been tabled in the conversation. As you know, the more games the better it will be for the islands. Obviously, Covid-19 has not helped them, but it has been up in discussions about playing the US in a pan-Pacific competition.”
Sources: Stuff & RugbyPass