Sport Rugby

Sunday 13 October 2019

World Rugby's plan to create Nations Championship suffers major blow as RFU voices serious concerns

The RFU says relegation would result in the sale of Twickenham
The RFU says relegation would result in the sale of Twickenham

Duncan Bech

World Rugby's proposed Nations Championship has hit a major road block after the Rugby Football Union declared that England's relegation from the Guinness Six Nations would be "catastrophic" for the game on these shores.

Acting chief executive Nigel Melville is determined to avoid the doomsday scenario - however unlikely - of a two-year spell outside of the sport's most successful annual tournament.

It has been speculated that were England to drop into a tier two competition, then Twickenham might have to be sold to cover for the inevitable collapse in revenue.

In a comment that appears to end the prospect of the Nations Championship being approved in its current format, Melville insists the RFU will not allow ownership of its 82,000-capacity ground to ever be threatened.

Reflecting on that possibility, Melville said: "I think we make sure it doesn't arise. That solves that problem. You just don't want to get into a situation where you're making decisions like that.

"For us it could be catastrophic being relegated, commercially. To be relegated, the catastrophe isn't just the team being relegated, it's our ability to fund the game as a governing body in England.

"Can we fund the community game in England to the level we do now if we don't have the revenues we have?

"And on the point of promotion and relegation, there's no promotion and relegation in a Lions year and there's no tournament in a World Cup year.

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"So when you're relegated, you're relegated for two years, not one. It's not quite up and down, one season on the naughty step and go back up, it's actually two years and that could be a disaster for people."

The Nations Championship is World Rugby's vision for the global game after Japan 2019 and takes the format of a new cross-hemisphere league that would see the top teams from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship collide at the end of the year.

Relegation and promotion based on overall league performance is a foundation of the plan in the hope it will create depth by offering tier two teams a place among the elite, but some European unions including Ireland and Scotland are vehemently opposed to it.

World Rugby insists it has investment of £5billion over 12 years to inject into the Nations Championship, while the Six Nations have their own cash source in the shape of a large offer from private equity firm CVC Partners.

The RFU board will continue its discussions before another meeting of the Six Nations unions is held.

A decision must be made in two weeks and for the Nations Championship to proceed, there has to be unanimous support from all teams involved.

And as if all those hurdles were not enough to overcome, Melville outlined other concerns held at Twickenham.

These are the integrity of the competition in Lions and World Cup years, the issue of the global final falling outside of the international window thereby requiring clubs to release their players for additional Tests, player welfare issues and the current lack of a credible tier two tournament to drop into.

"We talk about a global window and it makes sense to look at those windows to see if they can be combined," Melville said.

"The narrative makes sense, but there are obvious concerns coming out of the proposal."

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