PARIS, France — The international rugby calendar from 2026 onwards has taken shape with a new international competition ratified at a World Rugby council vote on Tuesday.
The meeting also saw plans approved to expand the men’s Rugby World Cup to 24 teams for the 2027 competition.
On a landmark day for the sport, the women’s calendar was also re-worked meaning there won’t be any overlap between international and club fixtures. But it’s been the so-called Nations Championship which headlined the discussions. Though the tournament is yet to have a confirmed name, its been referred to as the “Nations Championship” since its inception.
The World Rugby council met in Paris on Tuesday to vote on the plans for the new-look tournament which starts in 2026. The competition sees 24 nations compete across two 12-nation leagues with promotion/relegation introduced from 2030.
The vote in Paris needed a 75% majority to be passed by the World Rugby council, and it was ratified by a narrow margin, with proposed plans winning out 41 votes to 10 — meaning it got a majority of 80%, according to ESPN sources.
The concept sees the countries which make up the Six Nations [England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales], join the four Rugby Championship countries [Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa] and Japan and Fiji in a bi-annual competition.
This competition will take place on the years where there isn’t a British & Irish Lions tour or a Rugby World Cup.
The new competition sees a series of one-off cross-hemisphere Test matches take place in July and November. The northern hemisphere countries from the Six Nations will travel south in July for three Tests. The Rugby Championship sides, along with Fiji and Japan, will then head north in November for three further Tests.
The wins will be chronicled in a league format, and there will be a “grand final” at the end of the year to determine the overall winner. The other rugby-playing countries will compete in a World Rugby-run second-division competition with relegation-promotion to the Nations Championship only permitted from 2030.
So, in practice, what this means is that in 2026 and 2028 there will be the Nations Championship taking place, replacing the traditional summer and autumn internationals windows.
In 2027 there’s the World Cup in Australia, and in 2029 — when the Lions travel to New Zealand, as things stand — the 12 countries involved in the Nations Championship will play “Tier 2” opposition in the July window.
The Six Nations will be played across February/March while the Rugby Championship will be played in the August/September slots respectively.
The Pacific Nations Cup will also return from 2024 with Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and USA competing in a competition in the August/September window.
“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2026,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said. “An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all. An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will supercharge the development of the sport beyond its traditional and often self-imposed boundaries. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their spirit of collaboration. Today, we have achieved something special.”
And the men’s Rugby World Cup will also have more teams in 2027, expanding from 20 to 24 nations. The new format sees six pools of four teams, with a round of 16 added prior to the quarterfinals. This will reduce the tournament window from seven to six weeks.
“If we are to become a truly global sport, we must create greater relevance, opportunity and competitiveness to attract new fans and grow value,” Beaumont said.
“This incredible Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament has demonstrated the passion and potential that lies beyond the top 10 or 12 nations, if we think big and think inclusive. It is not acceptable to accept the status quo. Not acceptable to do nothing.
“The decision to expand Rugby World Cup 2027 to 24 teams is logical and the right thing to do. Underpinned by a new global calendar that increases certainty and opportunity, we are focused on raising standards, closing the gaps and creating a spectacle that fans demand to see. With its love of sport and major events, Australia is the perfect place to do just that.”