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24th Oct 2023

World Rugby approves new 24-team Nations Cup

Patrick McCarry

World rugby nations cup

A whole new world, in union

World Rugby has voted through the creation of a new Nations Cup tournament that will officially launch in 2026, the year after the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.

The World Rugby council met on Tuesday morning (October 24) in Paris and voted 41-10 in favour of going ahead with the competition. Argentina were the only ‘Tier 1’ nation that voted against the proposed tournament.

The new competition will be contested by 24 nations, four more than the current World Cup, spread across two divisions. The top division will compete for The Nations Cup will the second division go for The Challenger Series. There will be promotion and relegation, to and from the divisions, but not until 2030.

According to Rugbyrama, the new Nations Cup will bring together the countries of the Six Nations (France, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy), Rugby Championship (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina) as well as two invited nations, which should be Fiji and Japan (ranked 10th and 12th in the world).

The Challenger Series will be made up of nations currently ranked 13 to 24 in the World Rugby rankings – Portugal, Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, United States, Spain, Romania, Namibia, Chile, Canada, Hong Kong.

The first Nations Cup will take place in 2026 then again in 2028. In between those dates we have a World Cup (2027) and Lions Tour to New Zealand (2029).

England and Fiji, who met in the World Cup quarter finals earlier this month, will both be in the top division (Getty)

Argentina and several of the Tier 2 nation representatives pushed hard to ensure there would be promotion and relegation. That will not happen for the first two stagings but will be in place by 2030. Even still, the top two sides from the Challenger Series will have to face each other in a play-off before they then face the bottom side from the Nations Cup for a promotion/relegation decider.

In order to accommodate the new competitions, there will be an extra ‘Test’ window each ‘fall’, most likely in November, although it could well be late October or early December [depending on how weekends fall in each calendar year].

The French league [LNR] pushed back on this, arguing clubs would lose top players for another week. In return, it was decided that from the 2026 Six Nations, and beyond, that tournament would be played over six weeks, rather than seven.

Although this one has not been ironed out yet, it is believed there are talks ongoing to stage the Six Nations from late February to early April, each year, and move the Rugby Championship significantly [it is currently August & September] to sync up with that tournament.

Points picked up by sides in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship will go towards their Nations Cup tally, with November games then deciding an eventual winner.

World Rugby are holding a press conference on the Nations Cup and World Cup, in Paris, on Tuesday afternoon, when many points should be clarified.

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