World Rugby’s Nations Championship concept takes further step towards reality

World Rugby’s plans for a global annual international competition have taken a step closer to fruition following talks between the chief executives of the tier one nations in Los Angeles, although the fate of the tournament appears to rest on whether lucrative broadcast deals can be secured.

According to The Times, which claims to have seen the details for the proposal, the Nations Championship would incorporate two top-tiers of six teams each, one in each hemisphere, with a play-off series and a final played each autumn.

The current Six Nations competition would form the top division in the northern hemisphere, with the possible introduction of relegation to a second tier. Italy, the perennial wooden spoon-holders at the Six Nations, are known to be opposed to relegation, and it is possible that the concept could be adopted without it.

The current goal is to begin the tournament in 2022. London’s Wembley Stadium and Barcelona’s Camp Nou have been mooted as potential host venues for the final, as World Rugby looks to create a high-profile showcase.

The intention is to encourage year-round global interest in the sport and allow emerging nations greater opportunity to play top-level rugby, while maintaining the structure of the game’s existing, successful competitions. As such, there is an appetite across the world of rugby to bring the proposal to reality, if the financial backing is in place.

British newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that the present stumbling block is a broadcasting deal, with the unions determined to keep the Six Nations on free-to-air television while also demanding drastically increased revenues from any rights deals for the new competition.

In a statement given to SportBusiness, Six Nations’ chief executive Ben Morel hinted at this, describing the Los Angeles meeting as “productive” but adding that “any future adaptations, to be considered, will need to be a substantial improvement on the current set up”.

He went on to say that the tournament would “need to not dilute key existing and leading competitions such as Six Nations”.