Sanzaar Six Nations Springbok Springboks

Faf de Klerk against the All Blacks. Photo: EPA

Rugby will not be the same after 2026

Rugby will undergo a massive shift away from tradition with the launch of a new tournament to be contested by the world’s top Test teams.

Sanzaar Six Nations Springbok Springboks

Faf de Klerk against the All Blacks. Photo: EPA

A new international rugby tournament set to be launched in 2026 will change the face of the sport.

SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby are working in partnership, alongside global rugby stakeholders, to forge a new international rugby competition that will that will be played in the existing July and November test windows.

According to a joint press release, “The creation of the new competition has been a collective process from the sport, including World Rugby, Unions, key leagues, competitions, and crucially, the International Rugby Players.”

New International Rugby tournament coming in 2026

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Set to begin in 2026, the new elite competition will feature each of the four SANZAAR Rugby Championship teams (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and the Six Nations Rugby sides (England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales).

“Two spaces have been reserved for invitational Unions to join the SANZAAR teams,” the statement adds.

“A transparent selection process will be managed by SANZAAR, supported by World Rugby and the International Rugby Players, to determine these two invitational Unions.

SANZAAR and Six Nations preserving existing rugby traditions

Owned and operated by SANZAAR and Six Nations the elite competition will take place in alternating years, outside of the British & Irish Lions Tours and Rugby World Cup.

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Involved at every stage of developing the new competition has been the International Players. This connection has been key in supporting the wider conversations around the club and international calendar taking place in parallel, and to ensure player welfare has remained a fundamental priority in all decision making.

Two divisions

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To strengthen the development pathway for emerging nations, WR will create a second-tier competition that will feature teams from Europe and the rest of the world, with SANZAAR and the Six Nations actively involved in cementing the link between the two divisions.

Establishing the two competitions will pave the way for promotion and relegation matches, contributing towards a valuable pathway for teams, and will support ambitions to sustain and grow the global game.

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The introduction of the new elite international competition is testament to the strong ambition across all parties, motivated by delivering context and a stronger narrative around the July and November windows, that can excite players and bring new fans to the game.

The impact this will have on the game will be to drive its growth and long-term sustainability. This is alongside the work being done to enhance the clarity and balance of the club and international calendars, which SANZAAR and Six Nations Rugby remain committed to assisting with.

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The critics

The tournament has its critics already.

Popular rugby analyst Robbie Owen, better known as Squidge Rugby, points out why.

“This decision will mean Georgia, who just beat Italy & Wales, won’t play a T1 team for at least four years. It would make sure a team coming out of nowhere like Chile never happens again,” Owen said.

“This is rugby cashing in the growing nations to make a few quid for the old dogs.

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“The way World Rugby’s governance works right now, if 8 of the 6N/TRC countries backed a motion to carpetbomb every rugby pitch in every T2 nation, there’s nothing the other 97 member unions could do to stop it.

“The entire system is set up to protect interests, not grow the game.”

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It is clear that the sport has questions to answer. However, it seems likely that a drive for more TV money will win the day. Can the game afford to ignore its fans concerns though?