Springboks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman Springbok

Springboks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman. Photo: SA Rugby website.

World Rugby greenlights controversial Test rugby shake-up

World Rugby has signed off on plans for the Nations Championship, a new and controversial bi-annual international competition set to start in 2026.

Springboks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman Springbok

Springboks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman. Photo: SA Rugby website.

Rugby is to have a new bi-annual international competition from 2026, comprising a top division of 12 teams from the Six Nations and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship, World Rugby said on Tuesday.

Two further countries – thought likely to be Japan and Fiji – will be invited to make up the dozen with matches being played in July and November.

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World Rugby’s council has reportedly approved a significant change to the international rugby calendar by giving the new Nations Championship the green light.

World Rugby voted in the majority to approve the competition during a council meeting on Tuesday morning.

The new Test rugby tournament will start in 2026 and be held every two years, with a northern versus southern hemisphere grand final.

The first division of the Nations Championship will be made up of the Rugby Championship teams, the Six Nations as well as Fiji and Japan.

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From 2026, teams from the southern hemisphere will host three northern hemisphere sides in the July Test window, before travelling north in the November window, bringing an end to traditional three-week tours.

The top team from each pool will face each other in a grand final, while the rest of the teams will play ranking playoffs.

British & Irish Lions tours and the World Cup will still go on as normal.

The controversial proposal was met with opposition from tier two nations and Argentina, as, despite the introduction of a Challenger Series involving teams ranked 13 to 24, there will be no promotion or relegation between the two leagues until 2030.

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All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie celebrates. @RugbyWorldCup via X.