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Ex-RFU chief proposes World Cup-style event in UK and Ireland

England captain Owen Farrell kicks a conversion during the England v Wales Six Nations match (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

Francis Baron, the former chief executive of England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU), has devised a financial rescue plan for the sport that would centre on a World Cup-style tournament held across the UK and Ireland.

Draft proposals for the 16-team tournament, tentatively titled the ‘Coronavirus Cup of World Rugby’, have been submitted to the RFU and World Rugby, The Telegraph has reported.

Baron oversaw England’s successful bid to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which he would use as a template for the radical new tournament. The overall plan is designed to provide significant financial support to rugby stakeholders that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tournament would feature matches held at the national stadia of the four home nations and run for six weeks next summer. It would also result in the postponement of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa until 2022.

The draft schedule includes invitations for the home nations, as well as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France, Italy, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, USA and Canada.

Baron said that 100 per cent of the profits generated from the tournament would be given to the participating unions and he is urging the RFU to back the plans.

Baron, who served as RFU chief executive for 12 years before retiring 2010, told The Telegraph: “The RFU should take a leadership position and propose to other major unions and World Rugby that a special one-off tournament be held in the UK and Ireland in June and July next year.

“Its key selling point is that all the money raised would be for keeping the game of rugby alive around the world. I have talked to one or two senior colleagues and they all think the country would get right behind it, as they did with the tournament in England in 2015.

“I think the four Home Unions would support it because a number of big matches would be held in each of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The key will be winning the support of the southern hemisphere unions but with everyone facing horrendous financial challenges, this is a bold and ambitious plan to raise large amounts of new cash from which they will be major beneficiaries.

“The 2015 World Cup in England generated net profits for the game of around £400m (€448m/$493m). I believe this proposed special event could generate a net profit for distribution to unions of £200-250m. This would be in addition to the £80m World Rugby support funding package already in place for the global game.”

Baron added that the rescheduling of tournaments such as the Six Nations and summer tours should be “put on ice” until the battle with Covid-19 is won.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney revealed earlier this month that the body could see revenue losses of up to £107m if the pandemic leads to the cancellation of autumn internationals.