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The top sides will compete bi-annually in the new competition. Billy Stickland/INPHO
New Comp

World Rugby confirms bi-annual 'Nations Championship' to launch in 2026

The Rugby World Cup will expand to 24 teams from the 2027 tournament in Australia.

WORLD RUGBY HAS confirmed that the new bi-annual ‘Nations Championship’ competition will launch in 2026, following a vote in Paris this morning.

The new competition will have a top division of 12 teams, consisting of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides, with Japan and Fiji expected to be included.

There will also be a second division made up of a further 12 teams, but promotion and relegation won’t commence until 2030.

The competition will be played in the July and November Test windows, with a final played at the end of the autumn window to decide the champions, as well as other placing games.

This new competition, says World Rugby, will provide fans and players with “compelling matches, to build audiences and value for all.”

World Rugby says that there will also be “a significant uplift” in the number of cross-over matches between teams from the two divisions bi-annually in the years the ‘Nations Championship’ is not being played. The game’s governing body says this will provide emerging nations with “annual competition certainty against high-performance unions.”

World Rugby has also announced that the Rugby World Cup will expand from 20 teams to 24 from the 2027 tournament in Australia.

The first three World Cups involved just 16 teams but the competition was expanded to 20 for the 1999 tournament and will now grow again in four years’ time.

The new format will feature six pools of four teams, with a round of 16 added prior to the quarter-finals. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the round of 16 along with the best four third-placed teams.

The World Cup will take place over a reduced six-week [seven-weekend] window, with the pool phase cut from five to four weeks.

“Details of the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2027 will be determined following a full review of France 2023,” says World Rugby.

The pool draw for the 2027 World Cup will take place “as late as possible to best reflect global competitiveness.”

There has also been confirmation of a new annual expanded Pacific Nations Cup competition from 2024, featuring Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga, and USA.

Including home fixtures, as well as Japan and USA alternating as finals hosts, World Rugby says this expanded Pacific Nations Cup “guarantees a minimum of three additional matches a year in addition to the new international competition and cross-over fixtures.”

Meanwhile, the governing body has announced changes in the women’s international game.

These include the first dedicated international release windows from 2026, specifically a regional release window of seven weeks and a global release window of eight weeks.

World Rugby also says it will continue to review the women’s global calendar, as well as “more effectively manage player load and welfare” within the women’s game.

“It is fitting that we finish Rugby World Cup 2023, the sport’s greatest celebration of togetherness, with the sport’s greatest feat of togetherness,” said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.

“Agreement on the men’s and women’s global calendars and their content is the most significant development in the sport since the game went professional. An historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success.

“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2026. 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.”

Written by Murray Kinsella and posted on