A new world rugby tournament will begin in 2026 after being officially approved by the World Rugby Council on Tuesday. The 12-team Nations Championship will take place within the existing international windows in July and November.

The Six Nations Championship will remain but will be reduced from seven to six weeks when the new biennial competition begins in three years. There are also unconfirmed reports that the Six Nations will resume at the end of February and end in April. The Six Nations teams, the four Rugby Championship nations, plus Fiji and Japan will be the 12 nations involved initially, which will be divided into separate northern and southern hemisphere groups.

There were reports that the proposal could be withdrawn at the last minute, as it no longer considers second-tier countries such as Portugal, Uruguay and Georgia. However, the vote, which required 75% approval, was approved by just three votes, according to reports from France and England. You can get more rugby news with our newsletter here.

The Nations Championship will alternate between the British and Irish Lions tours and the Rugby World Cup. The autumn international window will be extended to four weekends to accommodate the grand final, while the Six Nations Championship will be shortened.

Northern hemisphere teams will face three southern opponents away from home in the July window, with the second leg being played in November. The best teams from each group would face each other in the grand final.

Alongside the new tournament, World Rugby will also create a second-tier competition made up of teams from Europe and the rest of the world. This will eventually lead to opportunities for promotion and relegation via play-offs, but not before 2030. This element of the proposal has caused contention, with developing nations being banned from playing against top teams until that point.

The second division will be made up of nations currently ranked between 13th and 24th in the world rugby rankings. They are Portugal, Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, United States, Spain, Romania, Namibia, Chile, Canada and Hong Kong.

World Rugby also announced that the 2027 Rugby World Cup will increase from 20 to 24 teams and will begin in October rather than September.

The game’s governing body described the new competition and alignment of the international calendar as “the most significant change to the international game since the sport became professional”.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “It is fitting that we end the 2023 Rugby World Cup, sport’s greatest celebration of unity, with sport’s greatest act of unity. The agreement on the men’s and women’s global calendars and their content is the most important sporting event since the game turned professional. A historic moment for our sport that prepares us for joint success.

“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport, starting in 2026. An era that will bring confidence and opportunities for all. An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will accelerate the development of sport beyond its traditional and often arbitrary borders. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their spirit of cooperation. Today we achieved something special.”

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