World Rugby proposal would see Six Nations relegation in 2022

Six Nations side could face three years out due to World Cups or Lions tours

Johnny Sexton, in his role as International Rugby Players’ Council president, has  branded plans for an extended November window as out of touch. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Johnny Sexton, in his role as International Rugby Players’ Council president, has branded plans for an extended November window as out of touch. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

World Rugby’s “Nations Championship” proposal includes promotion and relegation from the Six Nations.

The governing body confirmed that their plan for a 12-team league, if adopted, would see Ireland or another country relegated from the Six Nations in 2022.

A return to the Six Nations and top tier could not happen until 2025 as there would be no promotion or relegation in the British and Irish Lions and World Cup years.

“With the proposed model incorporating competitions that are not owned or run by World Rugby, not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation,” World Rugby (WR) stated. “We continue to consider the feedback, but remain absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all.”

At least two current members of the Six Nations are believed to be strongly resisting relegation.

In a WR statement seeking to clarify their position following widespread criticism from elite players and tier two unions this past week, they also confirmed the intention to introduce five Test matches in an expanded November window.

Johnny Sexton, in his role as International Rugby Players’ Council (IRPC) president, branded this idea as “out of touch” and showing “little understanding of the physical strain” of players being made to play “five incredibly high level Test matches in consecutive weeks in November”.

As it stands, ahead of World Rugby’s emergency meeting with several stakeholders, including Japan and Fiji, on March 14th in Dublin, the best two teams will be required to play five Test matches in November. WR will suggest a “fallow week” which would mean five Test matches being played over six weeks, and so stretching into December.

This would immediately impact the resumption of the Champions Cup while overlapping with the Pro 14, English Premiership and Top 14 schedules.

“Player welfare is fundamental to our sport. Within the original proposal, players would play a maximum of 13 matches if their team reaches the final, compared to an average of between 12 and 14 Test matches presently. Most teams would play 11 matches.” Ireland played 12 Test matches in 2018.

An alternative proposal, which could also be tabled next Thursday, is to abandon the semi-finals and only play a Grand Final in December.

What would certainly change is Ireland’s three Test summer tour of one southern hemisphere country. Instead there would be three fixtures at separate venues, anywhere from Buenos Aries to Cape Town.

The urgency around these discussions is so WR can take advantage of a rare window when broadcast deals for each international competition are being re-negotiated. The governing body believes this can still include free to air televisions stations.

“Under the proposed competition, media rights would be combined, enabling greater consistency and overall value,” added the statement.

“Strong interest from media entities has indicated that the model would boost annual media revenue for international rugby and unions, for reinvestment in the game, by a substantial amount.”

World Rugby are adamant the addition of two countries to the 12-team Nations Championship from outside the Six Nations and current Rugby Championship sides – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – will be decided upon world rankings alone.

Media reports had linked Japan and USA as the two teams despite both being ranked below Fiji (ninth in current standings), but WR emphatically denied this to be their intention.

They also stated the Lions will be “retained and protected as jewels in the calendar” alongside the Six Nations and Rugby Championship.

The IRPC are to meet World Rugby on Monday before discussing any updated proposals with their members.

That means key figures on the council, namely Sexton and Owen Farrell, could be involved in three meetings the week of their final Six Nations matches.

“We have an agreement with World Rugby which requires meaningful engagement on key player welfare issues, however, too often information fails to be provided in a manner that allows players to realistically influence the outcome,” said IRP chief executive Omar Hassanein.

“For the benefit of our game and to ensure we avoid situations where players feel they have to take a public stand, the relationship with World Rugby and the basis upon which we interact on key issues needs to be a lot more meaningful and effective. This will be central to our discussions when we meet as a team next week.”

World Rugby’s Nations Championship

To start in 2022 with promotion and relegation between 12-team tier one and tier two leagues in seasons when there is no Lions tour or World Cup.

The Six Nations, Rugby Championship and Lions to be “completely retained and protected as jewels in the calendar.” (although every country can be relegated from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship).

World rankings determine the extra two countries added to tier one league. Also, league determines qualification and seeding for World Cups, which would “potentially” increase to 24 teams in 2027.

Each team plays the other 11 teams once either home or away (in summer and November) with points accumulated throughout counting towards a league table. Top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semi-finals, followed by a Grand Final in December.

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