World Rugby to introduce ‘battle of the hemispheres’

A new league format could be on the cards for international Test rugby.

Rugby chiefs have reportedly agreed a new world league that would drastically overhaul the Test rugby calendar, ringfence the Six Nations and introduce a north versus south final every two years.

According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, World Rugby’s dramatic overhaul of Test rugby could be introduced from 2026 as it is in a ‘final consultation phase’ and only needs the go-ahead from clubs and players’ representatives.

The new concept would see Test rugby take a league format, with two groups of six teams from each hemisphere. The northern group would be formed of the existing Six Nations teams, while the southern group would see Japan and Fiji join the Rugby Championship sides.

Essentially, what this means is that the Springboks would not be able to join a ringfenced Six Nations. There were hopes that South Africa could build on their involvement in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and join the international northern hemisphere competition.

Every two years from 2026, northern hemisphere sides will play three southern opponents away from home in the July window and reverse fixtures will be played in November. This would bring an end to the traditional three-week tours against a host country.

The top team from each pool would face each other in a grand final, while the other teams would play ranking playoff fixtures.

Fixtures will be rotated, so that every team plays against each other in a two-year cycle.

However, this would also mean fewer fixtures between Tier One and Tier Two nations, as promotion relegation could only be introduced from a second-tier competition involving the likes of Georgia from 2030.

The British & Irish Lions tours would still go ahead every four years as normal.

According to the report, the concept could be unveiled just before the World Cup in France in September.

“The fundamentals have been agreed,” one source told the Telegraph.

“All key stakeholders have been involved and the structure of the season, the rugby and player welfare issues were resolved some time ago. It’s just tying down some of the outstanding commercial issues, but we are well advanced on those as well. We are just about over the line.”

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