SYDNEY (Reuters) – The southern hemisphere rugby powers have issued a warm welcome to World Rugby’s revised proposal for a new annual global test championship, saying the “exciting” plan had the potential to transform the finances of the game.
The global governing body laid out a new proposal for the Nations Championship in Dublin on Thursday, saying it would bring billions of dollars into rugby and better address player welfare concerns.
“While there are some practical issues around player welfare and scheduling, (it) is exciting,” said Brent Impey, chairman of the regional governing body for southern hemisphere (SANZAAR).
“It has the potential to secure the financial future of the game … as well as increased funding for the development of the game around the world.”
Between them, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have won all but one of the Rugby World Cups but have often struggled financially, and in recent years faced a drain of talent heading north to the wealthier European leagues.
Criticism of the original proposals from the southern hemisphere centred on the potential for player burnout and the lack of potential access through promotion and relegation for emerging nations not included in the initial 12-team league.
Those concerns appear to have been assuaged by the revised blueprint.
“New Zealand has been a strong advocate for a pathway for Pacific unions and emerging nations,” New Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew said in a media statement.
“The model currently in front of us looks like it could deliver many of the fundamentals we are seeking in a future championship.
“The prospect of new and potentially lucrative opportunities for rugby are exciting and the potential for a single point of purchase for existing and new broadcasters is also interesting.”
South Africa Rugby Chief Executive Jurie Roux also welcomed the inclusion of a “clear development pathway for emerging nations” and described the proposal as “an interesting one”.
“Creating a meaningful season-long competition out of the current patchwork of events and tournaments has an obvious appeal,” he said in a news release.
“It would also create new and potentially lucrative opportunities for the sport as well as a single point of purchase for existing and new broadcasting players.
“But there are a number of due diligences to be performed and questions to be answered before anything can come to fruition.”
Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle echoed the caution of those last sentiments but was also encouraged by the possibilities offered by the plan.
“(It) has the potential to deliver a great product for fans and significant commercial benefit for Australia and the game globally,” she said.
“We commend World Rugby on the work they have done in developing a strong proposal and we remain committed to working towards an outcome that can tick each of those boxes.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)