The Six Nations are being offered a stay of execution for up to eight years in their fight to avoid a system of relegation and promotion in line with plans for the World League.
In a new attempt to save their proposed World League and its £5 billion investment from a Swiss-based backer, the game’s governing body, World Rugby, is understood to have softened its call for the Six Nations to accept relegation as a condition of entry.
The plan for a 12-nation World League, composed of the European elite plus New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Japan and Fiji, had been based on the Six Nations accepting a play-off decider between the bottom team of the Six and the winner of World Rugby’s Second Division headed by Georgia and Romania.
England, Ireland and Scotland had warned against the ‘catastrophic financial consequences’ of such an arrangement. The Six, buoyed by a £500m offer from CVC in return for a 30 per cent stake, have been standing firmly in opposition to the World League.
TRP can reveal that the goalposts have been shifted, that World Rugby is now prepared to shelve promotion-relegation for up to eight years after the scheduled start of their World League in 2022.
That could be decisive in launching the competition on schedule with matches in the Southern Hemisphere in July-August and the return fixtures in November.
At least two deadlines for signing-off the new global Test schedule have come and gone. Now World Rugby has given the parties concerned a final deadline for agreeing a deal – May 22.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has acknowledged the Six Nations’ ‘discomfort’ over promotion and relegation. “Many of these teams have been pretty well protected for a long time,’’ he said. “What we are asking is that some of that national interest is tempered by a little concern about the way the global game might be going as well.
“It’s trying to find that balance to get this across the line. It’s about keeping the money in the sport and it’s about making our own decisions about what’s right for the sport and you can do that when you have 100 per cent ownership.’’
World Rugby also claims the global Second Division would be a ‘fully-fledged’ competition with ‘significant investment’.
The postponement of promotion-relegation will be a blow to its leading proponent, the former Argentina scrum-half, Augustin Pichot. But with a one-up, one-down system to be in operation by 2030 at the latest, he could still achieve his ambition of giving Georgia the chance of playing their way into the Six Nations ‘in the next five or ten years’.
The odds are stacked in favour of the Six Nations’ bottom team. They would have home advantage for a one-off decider against the winner of the second tier.
Under original proposals, the bottom country in the Six Nations could have been relegated with effect from 2022. That country would have been unable to regain its place until 2024 because of no promotion in World Cup years with effect from 2023 or when the Lions are touring, as from 2025.