‘The death of Tier 2 rugby’ – Fans slam plans for new global international rugby tournament

Jared Wright
A new biennial international rugby tournament featuring the Six Nations and the SANZAAR teams is set to start in 2026, the two organisations have confirmed in a joint statement.

Georgia players celebrate beating Wales in November 2022.

A new biennial international rugby tournament featuring the Six Nations and SANZAAR teams is set to start in 2026, the two organisations have confirmed in a joint statement.

The tournament will be ring-fenced until 2030, with World Rugby setting up a Tier 2 competition for promotion and relegation.

Six Nations Rugby and SANZAAR will own and operate the elite tournament, which will include the 10 teams from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship plus an additional two invitational sides – likely to be Japan and Fiji.

The announcement of the new ‘World League’ – which will take place in alternating years between British and Irish Lions tours and the Rugby World Cup – has been met with mixed reviews, but were mostly negative.

Rugby’s Super League

Popular YouTube rugby analyst, Robbie Owen, aka Squidge Rugby, was quick to criticise the competition due to its negative impact on Tier 2 teams.

He tweeted: “This decision will mean Georgia, who just beat Italy & Wales, won’t play a T1 team for at least four years. It would make sure a team coming out of nowhere like Chile never happens again. This is rugby cashing in the growing nations to make a few quid for the old dogs.

“The way World Rugby’s governance works right now, if 8 of the 6N/TRC countries backed a motion to carpetbomb every rugby pitch in every T2 nation, there’s nothing the other 97 member unions could do to stop it. The entire system is set up to protect interests, not grow the game.”

Several fans echoed Robbie’s concerns.

One reply to his tweet read, “They want to keep the game for a selected few rather than growing the sport. It’s honestly embarrassing.”

Another added: “This is essentially the super league but for rugby. Solidify the revenue and competitiveness for the top teams whilst giving the rest a token place to participate.”

The Death of Tier 2 Rugby

South African journalist Brenden Nel dubbed it a ‘death blow’ for rising nations.

He wrote: “The proposed World League concept launched by Sanzaar and 6N today underlines the commercialisation of test rugby by investment groups. It deals a death blow to those rising nations like Georgia and Chile, who will only face Tier 1 nations from 2030.”

That was a common viewpoint with Tight Five Rugby simply tweeting ‘The death of Tier 2 rugby.’ with a screenshot of the statement.

Connacht fan page, The 2nd Row, believes that this is an indication that World Rugby have lost control of the game.

“Wow well proof that @WorldRugby have lost control of the game. With the 6 nations and Sanzaar coming together like this, that’s most of the voting board of world rugby and them pushing everything through. Tier 2 will be further left behind. Their voices will mean less and less.”

Game changer for some, not all

There were some more optimistic reactions, but those were few and far between.

One tweet read: “Doesn’t seem great. But every other year so still opportunities for lots of T1 vs T2 games in the other year. I still want to see a european championship in a Lions year. I guess France would be a bit OP but you could have 12 teams at least. World rugby needs to do more for T2.”

Another added: “Terrible for Georgia and the other T2 countries. Game changer for Fiji and Japan.”

Huw Griffin urged fans to refrain from celebrating the concept, adding that it would be a different story had World Rugby owned the competition and not SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby.

“I don’t celebrate this. If both T1 and T2 were owned and run by world rugby, ok fine 6N and SANZAAR have far too much power and say in the game. World Rugby is impotent. Btw, the TV deal is crucial to this. If it’s divided up over more than 2 broadcasters, it’s a waste of time.”

EK Rugby reacted to the news saying that it is ‘hugely frustrating’ for the Tier 2 teams and it won’t aid in the growth of rugby.

“While this might seem like a good idea short-term, honestly don’t think it’s the best way to grow the game globally further down the road. For a team like Georgia, especially who beat Italy and Wales recently and are dominant at ‘Tier 2’ level, this has to be hugely frustrating.”

Freelance journalist Francisco Isaac predicts that the tournament will not end well, describing it as ‘vile’.

International Rugby Players’ statement

Meanwhile, International Rugby Players – a representative body supporting the players – released a statement in reaction to the news.

They described the competition as an ‘exciting development’ which will assist the growth of the game, even for emerging nations.

It also noted that it would go some way in dealing with the issues around World Rugby regulation nine around the release of players from their clubs as well as the workloads of players.

The full statement reads: “International Rugby Players (IRP) notes today’s statement by Six Nations and SANZAAR in relation to a potential new global men’s XV tournament.

“The ‘Nations Cup’ is viewed as an exciting development across the July/ November window that the players’ union has put its weight behind, subject to meeting appropriate standards of welfare as well as increased opportunity for emerging nations to strategically grow the game.

“Senior leaders of the global players body, with the full support of its board, met with key stakeholders in London this week, where the Nations Cup was discussed in the context of a broader Regulation 9 review across both the club and international game.

“International Rugby Players acknowledges the efforts made by the international game in meeting these welfare standards for the Nations Cup, however, senior players across the globe have made clear the need to take a holistic approach to the season structure, across both club and international fixtures.

“They remain committed to ensuring that the overall workload placed on senior international players cannot be increased any further than its current position – something that can only be achieved through compromise from all stakeholders across the game.”

READ MORE: Plans unveiled for new two-tier global international rugby tournament