World Rugby finalise ring-fenced ‘World League’ to kick-off in 2026 – report

Jared Wright
World Rugby's controversial 'World League' has reportedly been greenlit to kick off in 2026, with a grand final taking place every two years.

World Rugby’s controversial plans to start a ‘World League’ is now a done deal, according to reports in Georgia. 

The league will replace the traditional July Test series, and the November internationals with six teams from each hemisphere split into two groups and is set to be introduced in 2026.

World League format

Six teams from each hemisphere – namely the Six Nations [England, France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales] and Rugby Championship sides [Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa], with Japan and Fiji, expected to be included – will be split into two groups, with the top team from each pool facing each other in a grand final every two years and ranking playoff games for the others. 

The format will see Northern Hemisphere sides play three Southern Hemisphere opponents away from home in the July window, with the Northern Hemisphere teams then hosting the Southern Hemisphere sides during the November international window. 

This would not impact the British and Irish Lions tours, with the other Test nations reverting to the traditional Test series for that July window. 

Tier 2 sides locked out until 2030

According to a report by the Georgian television channel 1tv, the tournament has been greenlit by World Rugby for 2026 and confirms that it will be ring-fenced until 2030. 

This means the likes of Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Spain, Portugal, and other Tier 2 sides will feature in the secondary ‘Challenger league’ until at least 2030. Only then could promotion and relegation be introduced from the second-tier competition.

In March, a Telegraph Sport report stated that one of the outstanding issues for the World League to be finalised was the timing of the Rugby Championship in the new global season.

Rugby Championship to be played earlier in the year?

For the league to take place, the Rugby Championship may need to move to the same time of the year as the Six Nations (February/March).

However, this week SANZAAR released a statement clearing up comments made by Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan where they confirmed the current schedule is locked only until 2026.

“SANZAAR would like to clear up any misunderstanding surrounding the future playing window for The Rugby Championship,” the statement read.

Adding: “SANZAAR can reiterate that until 2026 the existing mini-tour match schedule is locked in. Furthermore, The Rugby Championship window will not change from 2026, with the national unions working on competition models for the August/September window to ensure maximum high performance and commercial outcomes. 

“SANZAAR is part of World Rugby’s working programme that is exploring the potential creation of a global calendar, and review of playing windows, as part of the Games’ work on the wider Regulation 9 (player availability) review. The SANZAAR Executive Committee has agreed The Rugby Championship has to fit into the existing sanctioned World Rugby playing windows for international rugby matches.” 

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