The sun hadn’t even set on this year’s Rugby World Cup before World Rugby announced radical changes that will dramatically shift the landscape of the sport in the coming years.
As the World Cup in France reached its final stages at the end of last month, it was revealed that from 2026 there will be a new international tournament introduced. It’s yet to be officially named but it will consist of two separate divisions, with the games replacing the current Autumn International fixtures.
As well as the new competition, the World Cup will be expanding, with 24 teams set to compete in the 2027 edition, which is taking place in Australia.
How will the new rugby competition work?
World Rugby have revealed that the new international tournament will see 24 teams split into two divisions, each comprising 12 nations. The top division will feature the 10 teams from the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship, alongside two others.
Matches will take place in July and November and will replace the current autumn internationals and traditional tours. However, the tournament will not be an annual event and will take place in alternate years. It will not be held during years when there is a World Cup or a British and Irish Lions tour.
There are hopes that the new format will make the lesser nations more competitive and give them the chance to compete regularly against the top teams. However, this idea has raised some eyebrows.
While the triumphant nations in the second division will be rewarded with promotion, this will not come into play until 2030. That means those countries that are traditionally weaker will have to wait seven years from now for the chance to compete at the top table.
Portugal stunned Fiji at the World Cup last month with a shock win in the pool stage and they’ll rightly feel that in order to continue their progression, regular tests against better opposition would be beneficial.
What other changes have been made to the calendar?
As well as the introduction of a new international competition, World Rugby have also announced plans to expand the World Cup from 20 to 24 teams. This will come into effect at the 2027 tournament in Australia.
The four extra teams will lead to an additional round, with round of 16 matches taking place in between the pool stage and the quarter-finals. The new format will see teams drawn into six pools of four, reducing the length of the tournament from seven weeks to six.
The new World Cup gets underway in October 2027 and there are hopes that the expansion will continue to provide opportunities for more nations to compete on the world stage.
Alongside the World Cup tweaks, the Six Nations is being reduced from seven weeks to six in 2026, with one of the fallow weeks removed. This will allow the autumn internationals in November to be extended to four weeks, culminating in a high-profile grand final.
2024 will also see the introduction of an annual expanded Pacific Nations Cup, giving three additional fixtures every year to Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and the USA.