The face of international rugby may be about to change significantly with the current Autumn Internationals and Summer Tours effectively ended and rolled into a major new tournament involving two divisions of twelve Test playing nations.
Talks are at an early stage but were given the blessing to proceed by World Rugby at their Annual meeting in Sydney last week.
Some media reports over the past two days in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres have suggested the two existing windows of the international game in November and July will be maintained but they will be filled with a round robin tournament leading to semi-finals and a grand final each of the three years in a four year cycle leading up to the Rugby World Cup.
This would also include potential promotion and relegation giving a pathway to smaller nations such as Georgia, Spain and the United States, with one of the bigger nations potentially dropping each year to play in the second tier.
If organised into conferences like the Guinness PRO14 this would involve five matches on a rotating Home and Away basis with the Top two progressing to a Semi-Final stage.
There would obviously be a lot of travel both ways and it would take away the opportunity for summer tours to be used to blood younger players as might have been the case in the past.
None of the individual unions have reacted yet to a proposal which is at an early stage but which could move quickly and see the tournament potentially come to life in July and November of 2020.
“I believe that the time is right and the opportunity exists to do something really impactful that injects further excitement, significance, and value into international rugby between Rugby World Cups for the benefit of all,” said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont last week.
“In line with this objective, we are examining models to maximise the potential of the July and November windows and create an annual programme of meaningful matches that will unlock new markets, attract new fans and grow commercial revenues for all, while maintaining player welfare imperatives.”
“While these are early days, initial discussions this week with my Executive Committee colleagues have been highly productive. This is an important moment for the sport and we must now seize the positive momentum and, working in close partnership with our unions, deliver an outcome that everyone in the game can be proud of and benefit from.”
Interesting times ahead for the sport…
Image Credit: Dan Sheridan, Inpho.ie