WELLINGTON - World Rugby has scrapped plans to create a rich 12-team Nations Championship after opposition from national unions over issues such as promotion and relegation.
The championship, which would have begun in 2022 in place of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship tournaments, needed the unanimous support of competing nations. But after extensive consultation World Rugby has been unable to win the assent of all nations because of differences over scheduling, promotion and the creation of a second-tier competition.
“While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement Thursday.
“This includes our continued commitment to competition and investment opportunities for emerging nations to increase the competitiveness of the international game with a view to possible Rugby World Cup expansion in 2027.”
World Rugby had promoted the Nations Championship as the future of the international game, unifying the Northern and Southern Hemisphere calendars and revitalizing test matches by infusing them with new significance.
The 12 competing teams would play each other in an annual round-robin with the top two meeting in the final.
But while the world governing body put billions of dollars on the table to sweeten the appeal of the tournament, it ran into opposition from the outset from national unions and players.
Players feared a sharply increased workload while some unions felt the existence of promotion and relegation might threaten their place among top-tier nations.
The first iteration of the competition did not include a place for Pacific Island or other emerging nations, or any means by which those nations could join the championship. New Zealand, especially, lobbied for change to create a pathway for Pacific nations to be promoted into the championship.
Lengthy consultation by World Rugby failed to produce the unanimity needed to allow the tournament to go ahead. It said it will now examine other measures to achieve the same goals of a unified global calendar and more robust test competition.