World Rugby announce new international competition and changes to the Rugby World Cup
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The World Rugby Council has approved transformational reform of the global men’s and women’s rugby calendars from 2026, with the Rugby World Cup set to feature 24 teams in 2027.
Reform of Regulation 9 governing international player release has paved the way for the global club and international game to complement each other for the first time with clearly defined windows of release for international duties, as well as enhanced player welfare outcomes in the form of Player Load Guidelines.
Shaped through close collaboration with the players and stakeholders from across the whole sport, including domestic and international competitions, regions, unions, the adjustments have been driven by a game-wide commitment to prioritise player welfare while supporting desired competitiveness increases across performance unions.
In the women’s game, the decision means clearly defined global and regional player release periods for the first time with no domestic competition overlap, opening the way to a harmonious structure that promotes opportunity and growth ahead of an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup in 2025.
In the men’s game, new competition structures coupled with an increased level of cross-over fixtures between the high performance and performance unions, will deliver long-term certainty of content for the first time, supporting increases in competitiveness, interest and value ahead of a landmark Rugby World Cup in the USA in 2031.
First-ever global calendar for men’s rugby with new competitions and increased opportunity
- Establishment of an enhanced global calendar for men’s rugby from 2026 with clearer international windows, including confirmation of the release window for Rugby World Cup 2027 (Australia).
- Expansion of Rugby World Cup to 24 teams in 2027, providing more qualification opportunities for more teams and regional competitions.
- Launch of a bi-annual new international competition from 2026, comprising a top division of 12 teams (Six Nations unions, SANZAAR unions and two further unions to be selected via a process run by SANZAAR), and a second division run by World Rugby of 12 teams with promotion and relegation commencing from 2030. Played in the July and November international release windows, it will provide crucial opportunities (and certainty of fixtures) for unions currently outside of the existing annual competitions, and in turn provide opportunities for unions and regional associations through to the second division.
- The competition provides players and fans with compelling matches, to build audiences and value for all.
- A significant uplift in the number of cross-over matches between unions in the respective divisions are included in the global calendar in the two other years, providing performance nations with annual competition certainty against high-performance unions.
- Launch of new annual expanded Pacific Nations Cup competition in 2024, featuring Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and USA with home fixtures and Japan and USA alternating as finals hosts, guaranteeing a minimum of three additional matches a year in addition to the new international competition and cross-over fixtures.
- The global men’s calendar provides additional clarity for elite league and cross-border club competitions, supporting value growth investment opportunities for all.
The reform follows extensive consultation with the professional game, including regions, unions, domestic and international competitions, and detailed evaluation of the playing, commercial and fan landscape. Implementation of the agreed package will continue to involve dialogue with all parties.