Nations Championship a step closer but plan hangs on Six Nations powerbrokers

Rugby

Rugby Australia, New Zealand Rugby and SANZAAR have all voiced their support for World Rugby’s updated Nations Championship concept but the proposal continues to hang on the will of Six Nations officials.

World Rugby was bullish in its assessment of discussions that took place overnight [AEDT] in Dublin, after pitching its revised idea to the Six Nations and Rugby Championship Unions, and representatives from Fiji and Japan.

After a poor reaction to the leaked proposal last week, World Rugby removed the semifinals from its Nations League structure and dangled a $[Aus]9.4 billion revenue carrot the competition would provide the various stakeholders. That figure would be divided up across the Unions and World Rugby itself.

The revised proposal has been met with support from two of the three big Southern Hemisphere players who realise the difficult situation their broadcast renewal process otherwise faces, Australia in particular.

If the Nations League is green lit, SANZAAR’s concerns around negotiating another upturn on its broadcast deal for the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby would be largely allayed.

“The proposal put forward by World Rugby for the Nations Championship has the potential to deliver a great product for fans and significant commercial benefit for Australia and the game globally, including opportunities for emerging nations,” Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said via a press release.

“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.

“These are exciting but complex discussions which require us to strike a balance between doing what’s best for fans, Australian rugby as well as the global game, and the players.

“We will now continue the conversation with our member unions and RUPA before reverting back to World Rugby on our position ahead of the next round of discussions.”

For New Zealand Rugby, the potential financial windfall is an attractive proposition as player retention continues to be a hot discussion topic.

On Friday it was revealed Luke Whitelock will join fellow Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith at French club Pau after the World Cup, while teammate Liam Squire had already announced his move to Japan. The All Blacks trio’s pending exodus comes on the back of Lima Sopoaga’s move to Wasps at the end of last year’s Super Rugby season, and reflects the growing fight New Zealand Rugby has on its hands at the provincial level.

It comes as no surprise then that the governing body also likes what it sees in the Nations Championship, while chief executive Steve Tew again flagged the inclusion and development of Pacific Island rugby as a key focal point.

“World Rugby has been working very hard on finding a solution that ensures the future growth of the game in New Zealand and around the world, including the Pacific,” Tew said via a press release. “We now have a strong proposal for a World Rugby Nations Championship that we will need to take back to our stakeholders.

“The creation of a new championship, outside of Rugby World Cup years, has been the focus of discussions with World Rugby for several months and the issues are very complex.Our challenge has been to find balance between a model that delivers what fans are demanding, with the welfare of all players, growing the commercial strength of our competition and ensuring we are providing a pathway for other nations.

“New Zealand has been a strong advocate for a pathway for Pacific unions and emerging nations. 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.”

While the Southern Hemisphere stakeholders largely appear to be on board, save for some finer details around scheduling and player welfare, the power continues to rest with their Six Nations counterparts.

Six Nations officials are reportedly weighing up World Rugby’s proposal against that of a bid from private equity firm CVC, who last year’s bought a 27 percent stake in the English Premiership, which would also represent a huge financial windfall for its Unions.

But it would also likely come with the caveat of the Six Nations being taken off free-to-air television, a huge concession given Wales’ nail-biting victory over England peaked at a 9.8 million viewers on the BBC.

England welcome Scotland to Twickenham while on Saturday while the Championship will be decided by Wales’ clash with Ireland in Cardiff, promising another stellar ratings return.

So where there may be great financial gains by opting for the CVC investment, the reduction in eyeballs and therefore exposure may be met with some resistance.

According the Daily Mail, all Unions must agree to the Nations Championship by March 29 all the plan will be scrapped completely.

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