Thu. Jul 18th, 2024
The Rugby World Cup will be expanded from 20 to 24 teams in 2027, when it will be hosted by Australia

World Rugby has announced a new competition starting in 2026 as part of a “significant overhaul” of the men’s international calendar.

The tournament will be made up of 24 teams, split into two divisions with 12 teams in each, with promotion and relegation starting from 2030.

The top division will include the 10 sides from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, plus two unnamed others.

The World Cup will also be expanded to 24 teams from 2027.

The new competition – yet to be given an official name – will be played in July and November, replacing the current summer and autumn international windows.

Reforms to the women’s game mean there will be no overlap between international and club fixtures for the first time from 2026.

“Agreement on the men’s and women’s global calendars and their content is the most significant development in the sport since the game went professional,” said World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont.

“[It is] a historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success.

“We now look forward to an exciting new era commencing in 2026. An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all.

“An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will supercharge the development of the sport beyond its traditional and often self-imposed boundaries.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues for their spirit of collaboration. We have achieved something special.”

The future changes have been announced four days before the winners of the Rugby World Cup will be crowned, with New Zealand facing South Africa in the final in Paris on Saturday.

‘Significant uplift’ in games for tier-two nations

Portugal were among the tier-two nations to impress at the Rugby World Cup in France, beating Fiji in their final pool game

Teams confirmed to be participating in the top division of the new global competition are the sides which compete in the annual Six Nations tournament in Europe – England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy – as well as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, who compete in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.

World Rugby said the revamped calendar will provide a “significant uplift” in the number of matches for lower-ranked teams, known as “tier two” sides, against more established nations.

Speaking earlier this month at the end of the Rugby World Cup pool phase, Beaumont said the governing body “must, and will, do everything we can to provide greater certainty and opportunity of regular high-level competition” for those nations.

Fiji were the only tier-two side to qualify for the last eight, and there were mixed fortunes for the other sides competing in France.

Portugal upset Fiji to earn their first win at a World Cup and put in creditable performances against higher-ranked opposition, as did other nations including Uruguay and Samoa.

But Romania conceded more than 70 points in three of their four pool games, while Namibia and debutants Chile were also on the wrong end of heavy defeats.

Several players and coaches emphasised that a lack of regular top-level matches is unhelpful for tier-two sides, although the Covid pandemic was also a factor in a reduced number of fixtures for some emerging nations during the four-year cycle.

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