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Rugby Australia chief calls for unity over World League plans

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has given her backing to the proposed World League plan, stating that the sport’s leading nations need to come together to think of the wider development benefits it could bring.

Castle discussed the World League proposal in Sydney over the weekend. In what has been touted as a potentially seismic change for the international game, rugby union stakeholders analysed the plans at a meeting in Los Angeles last week.

Under the proposals, which have been earmarked for introduction in 2020 or 2021, the World League would see all Test matches awarded points, with the champions of the northern hemisphere facing off against their rivals from the southern hemisphere in an end-of-year final.

The World League would reportedly be composed of those competing in the north’s Six Nations and the south’s Rugby Championship, plus a final two teams from contenders including Japan, Fiji and the United States.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said broadcasters have indicated that the new event would be worth an extra AUD$18m (€11.37m/$12.99m) per team on an annual basis. It added that Rugby Australia’s last domestic rights deal was worth AUD$57m over five years.

“We have to be able to make sure we take our own commercial interests and hats of our own 12 countries off for a moment and make sure we do what’s good for rugby,” Castle said, according to Fox Sports. “And then we have to make sure we look at all of the game and all of us as individuals, make sure we maintain and grow our current commercial positions.”

She added: “There’s been enough conversation with broadcasters to indicate that they would pay more for this type of joint competition and so that’s where there’s not specific detail yet but there’s certainly enough due diligence to have been done to show that they’re going to pay more for aggregated rights and everyone coming together playing in this united competition.”

However, the prospect of a promotion-relegation system is causing concerns amongst stakeholders in the northern hemisphere. New Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel last week said the championships are unlikely to introduce promotion and relegation. Meanwhile, the Herald said that while England and France are understood to be in favour of such a system, Italy and Scotland are strongly against it and Ireland is also uneasy.

Castle said: “One of the benefits of the World League discussion is that it genuinely brings an opportunity to those developing countries to be part of something significant, where at the moment if you just continue with Six Nations and Rugby Championship, you don’t actually help any of those developing countries. This proposal really brings that to the table.

“If you don’t have that part of it, then whilst you’re adding value commercially I don’t think you get the benefit of not only growing those countries, but potentially those new broadcast markets. When you’re looking at integrity of competition, you can’t have some countries saying ‘we’re not going to get promoted or relegated’ and some countries saying ‘we are prepared to’.”

The Rugby Australia chief also dismissed suggestions that a World League would harm the World Cup, currently held every four years. She added: “You’re talking about Test matches all over the world in different locations, one Test match, as opposed to a World Cup where all the countries are gathered in one location, so I don’t even think they’re comparable.

“I think it just brings together two things, one, value for every Test match, and value for fans… It brings together more than passing interest in all the Test matches that are going around the world because it will evolve into an outcome.”