Tuesday 15 October 2019

World Rugby's proposals for global 12-team league met with resistance

Gain Mairs

There is mounting opposition within the Six Nations to World Rugby’s plan to introduce a league involving 12 teams from the northern and southern hemispheres, The Daily Telegraph understands.

World Rugby provided details of the proposed tournament during meetings in Dublin last week and, although the project remains at an exploratory stage, there appears to be little enthusiasm for it, particularly in the four home unions.

One source indicated that “many hurdles” would have to be overcome for talks to even reach a starting point. Another claimed that there was “little hope” of an agreement being reached, given the complexity of merging the international seasons of both hemispheres into one competition.

World Rugby has established a professional game committee, made up of representatives from Tier One and Tier Two nations, to drive the project, which is being championed by Agustin Pichot, the World Rugby vice-chairman. Pichot warned in an interview with The Telegraph that significant change was required for the world game to flourish because of growing financial problems for unions and clubs.

The presentations given to unions last week were based around the top 12 sides in the world rankings being split into pools, hosted in alternate years by the northern and southern hemispheres, with three pool games for each team, followed by semi-finals and a final.

Both the Six Nations and Rugby Championship would continue in their present forms but would form part of the global league, while the summer tours would be replaced by northern hemisphere sides facing up to three different southern hemisphere opponents.

All participants would supposedly benefit by sharing revenues and aggregating broadcasting and sponsorship rights. But one source said that the European unions remained to be convinced of its merits.

“There are lots of questions to be answered and doubts if it will ever get off the ground,” said the source.

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Player welfare appears to be a central concern, and while World Rugby insists that the new competition could be played within the framework of last year’s San Francisco agreement on the new global calendar from 2020, others doubt  that is possible.

“They are talking about five weeks including a semi-final and final, and we don’t have five weeks,” said one source.

Others are concerned that using summer tours as development tours in a World Cup year would have to be ditched because of the need to pick up points for the global league. It would also limit the ability of head coaches to rotate players during autumn Tests.

There is also a fear that the tournament would dilute the impact and interest in the World Cup, especially as 90 per cent of the revenue is invested in the global game by World Rugby.

It is understood that the challenge of selling tickets for the semi-finals and final at short notice has also been raised, given that sales are traditionally strong for the northern hemisphere autumn Tests.

World Rugby, however, last night insisted that there remained a “collective desire” to explore new tournament models in a bid to increase revenues.

“World Rugby, in full collaboration with its unions, continues to explore potential competition models within the San Francisco framework that have the potential to significantly enhance the meaning, attractiveness and value of international rugby, while promoting player welfare,” said a spokesman.

“This feasibility project has been mandated by the executive committee and professional game committee comprising Six Nations, SANZAAR, Fiji and Japan chief executive officers, and, while no decisions have been made, there is a collective desire and momentum to fully understand what might be achievable.”

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