Substantial changes to international rugby announced in Paris by World Rugby, SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby.

Rugby World Cup 2023 has shown once again that rugby is a vibrant and exciting sport on the international stage and has a bright future. What that future will look like and how it is structured is an extremely important issue for the game’s stakeholders. 

Reshaping the playing calendars, the continued consideration of player welfare initiatives and the continued development of emerging nations are hugely important for the sport, as is bringing the fans along with us.

SANZAAR has always been committed to establishing a platform for the future that works for its Member Unions in the Southern Hemisphere. SANZAAR is delighted that, together with the stakeholders Unions in the Northern Hemisphere and World Rugby, agreement has been reached on a set of reforms that will provide the platform for the sports’ international restructure and a bright future for all.

Historic Rugby Calendar Reform Summary

  • Adjustments to World Rugby Regulation 9 underpin most significant overhaul of the international game since the sport went professional
  • First-ever dedicated women’s and men’s calendars from 2026, aligning the international and domestic game for the benefit of players and fans
  • Reform shaped by players, unions, regional associations and international and domestic competitions to make the sport more accessible, relevant and equitable
  • Defined global and regional release periods and no overlap between international and club fixtures for the first time in the women’s game
  • A new global competition for men’s international rugby will occupy and enhance the existing men’s July and November windows from 2026, creating a true pathway for all unions led by Six Nations Rugby, SANZAAR and World Rugby.

Click HERE for full World Rugby media release

SANZAAR Chairman, Hamish McLennan, stated, “It has taken time but SANZAAR is delighted that the world of rugby has come together to put in place a platform for the sports’ continued growth and prosperity. Restructuring the international playing calendar and the establishment of new men’s and women’s tournaments, while at the same time understanding and ensuring player welfare is front and centre, is a remarkable achievement for the sport.”

“Essentially agreement on the reform of Regulation 9 governing international player release has paved the way for the global club and international game to complement each other.  The defined windows of release for international duties, as well as enhanced player welfare outcomes are welcomed by SANZAAR.”

“The Six Nations Championship and The Rugby Championship, international rugby’s annual flagship tournaments are rightly protected in the restructure. However, the establishment of a new tournament – to be run by SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby - in the years without a Rugby World Cup or British & Irish Lions tour, will now provide real meaning to the crossover international matches played in the Southern Hemisphere in July and Northern Hemisphere in November.”

“SANZAAR will, in the near future, begin the process of allocating the two teams that will join Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to makeup the six teams that will represent the Southern Hemisphere in this new July/November tournament.”

“The proposed Challenger Series, for 12 teams below those playing in the new international tournament, to also be played in the June/November windows, is hugely important for the development of several of our Pacific and South American stakeholders. SANZAAR is committed to assisting this initiative wherever possible, including the provision of promotion and relegation play-offs to the top nations tournament from 2030.” 

“SANZAAR also welcomes the agreement on the playing window for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia and the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams. This aligns with the sports ambitions to increase the global competitiveness, reach, impact and value of international rugby,” added McLennan.
RWC 2027 at a glance

  • Rugby World Cup 2027 will be hosted between 1 October and 13 November
  • The tournament will be expanded from 20 to 24 teams
  • Top three from each pool at Rugby World Cup 2023 automatically qualified
  • New reduced six-week (seven weekend) Rugby World Cup window approved, supporting welfare, entertainment and value imperatives
  • Pool phase reduced from five to four weeks
  • Round of 16 to be introduced with top two teams from each pool automatically qualifying along with the top four third-placed teams
  • Decision provides certainty for all stakeholders and maintains Rugby World Cup’s position as the jewel in the crown of the international calendar
  • Details of the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2027 will be determined following a full review of France 2023 and consultation with unions and regions.

Click HERE for full RWC 2027 media release