The World Rugby governing body has announced major changes to its global events calendar and the expansion of its quadrennial Rugby World Cup (RWC) tournament.

The wide-ranging changes to the global nature of the sport include new dedicated men’s and women’s rugby calendars from 2026 onwards, which will formalize the global international rugby release windows and help the running of the game at club level.

Furthermore, a brand-new men’s 12-team international rugby competition which will include the constituent members of the Six Nations (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, and Italy), and SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina), alongside two other rugby unions yet to be determined.

The bi-annual competition will run from 2026 onwards, with a second-tier 12-team tournament running from 2030 onwards, which will feature promotion and relegation to and from the top-tier tournament.

Furthermore, 2024 will see the launch of an annual expanded Pacific nations tournament featuring Japan, Canada, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and the US, expanding the number of games these nations will play.

The sport’s showpiece competition, the RWC, will also be going through an overhaul with the current 20-team format to be expanded to 24 teams from its 2027 edition onwards.

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It had previously been reported that the expansion would come into effect from the 2031 edition, but will now take place from 2027 onwards instead.

The tournament, set to be hosted in Australia in 2027, will take place over a reduced timescale, owing to the shorter time the group stages will require as the number of teams per group lowers.

A round of 16, to take place between the pool stage and the quarter-finals, will also be introduced.

Sir Bill Beaumont, chair of World Rugby, stated: “We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2026. An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all. An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will supercharge the development of the sport beyond its traditional and often self-imposed boundaries.”

The efforts to formalize international rugby’s calendar follow increasing efforts from World Rugby to expand its global reach, following the establishment of a new rugby streaming service, RugbyPassTV, in collaboration with Endeavour Streaming.

Peter Scrimgeour, senior analyst at GlobalData Sport, said: “World Rugby’s launch of its new global streaming platform ahead of the World Cup is further progress of the international governing body’s strategy to grow the game globally and diversify revenue through engagement, participation, and competition,” which World Rugby is furthering with its latest trio of announcements.