Nations Championship: World Rugby seeks to allay RFU fears over 'catastrophic' relegation

Nigel Melville
Interim RFU boss Nigel Melville has expressed concerns over the commercial impact of relegation from the top tier of the competition

World Rugby insists the second division of the proposed Nations Championship would be a "fully-fledged competition" that would receive "significant investment".

It comes after the RFU outlined its concerns over the impact of relegation.

While supporting the world league concept in principle, the RFU is currently unable to back the plans.

World Rugby has set a deadline of 5 April for unions to outline their intent.

However the RFU says more time and information are needed before they make a firm decision.

What is World Rugby proposing?

World Rugby's proposed Nations Championship would see the 12 teams in the top tier playing each other once in a calendar year, either through established competitions like the Six Nations or through summer or autumn Test windows.

It is designed to globalise the calendar and increase competitiveness, with many international games currently glorified 'friendlies'.

Cash-strapped southern hemisphere unions are firmly behind the proposal, but most of the Six Nations unions are lukewarm, with concerns over promotion and relegation, as well as tempting offers on the table from private equity and the like.

Relegation could see a northern hemisphere giant drop out of the Six Nations, something unions feel would be catastrophic given the current chasm - both on and off the pitch - between the Six Nations and Rugby Europe.

What does the RFU think about that?

The RFU, along with the other Six Nations unions, feels the gap between the Six Nations and the second tier could be disastrous, and needs reassurance from World Rugby about how that second division would look.

Interim chief executive Nigel Melville has already voiced his "huge concerns" about the commercial impact of dropping out of the Six Nations, with RFU insiders urging World Rugby to invest heavily in the European second tier.

It is believed the Irish and Scottish unions are especially opposed to relegation out of the Six Nations.

However, it is understood Rugby Europe, the organisation that runs the European competition below the Six Nations, would be revamped as part of the Nations Championship.

It would lead to teams like the USA and Canada playing in Europe during February and March, alongside established European teams like Georgia and Romania.

Second division a 'growth opportunity'

Despite the concerns of the established northern hemisphere unions, Infront - the sports marketing company financing the world league to the tune of £5bn - believe the second division is the area with the biggest growth opportunity.

"The second division would be a fully-fledged competition that will receive significant investment," said a World Rugby spokesperson.

"We believe in it, not just as a pathway, but as a spectacle - and Infront do too.

"It is fundamental to their involvement and they are excited about the commercial and sporting potential of a strong second division."

Further financial due diligence will be mapped out to the unions this week, with World Rugby still hopeful the tournament can get off the ground despite the various obstacles.

However, the opposition from influential parties such as the RFU means it remains unlikely the Nations Championship will be established in time for 2022, with World Rugby needing unanimity to get the tournament off the ground.

"We continue to believe in a concept that has the best interests of the global game at heart," added the spokesperson.

"It is important to clarify that any union that is relegated would be guaranteed a parachute payment, guaranteed their current media and sponsorship revenues from international windows through to 2033, and will have accrued additional significant incremental revenue for each year that they are in the top division."

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