LONDON: World Rugby has announced details of a new annual global women’s 15s competition model and international playing windows that will supercharge the women’s game.
Underscoring its commitment to increase competition, commercial and fan engagement opportunities while raising competitiveness of the women’s game on the road to an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup 2025, World Rugby has launched WXV, a three-tiered annual competition model that will start in 2023.
Supported by an initial £6.4 million World Rugby investment, the three WXV competitions will feature 16 teams and will be hosted within a new September-October global competition window, except in a Rugby World Cup year.
Teams will qualify annually into the WXV competitions courtesy of their finishing positions within the respective existing annual regional competitions, such as the Women’s Six Nations. These regional competitions, played within a new regional window, must be completed by June each year.
To support the implementation of the WXV competitions, a new annual cross-region competition will be established which will act as one of the principle qualification routes for the top tier of WXV. This will feature Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA. This represents a huge step forward, providing a regular annual international competition for these teams, where previously there was none.
How it will work
WXV 1 will consist of six teams and be played in a cross-pool format, at a standalone tournament in one location, which will be determined on a year-by-year basis.
Participating teams will include the top three teams from the Women’s Six Nations (Europe) and the top three teams of the cross-regional tournament featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA (Oceania/Rugby Americas North (RAN)). Each team will play three matches.
There will be no promotion or relegation in the first cycle (2023 and 2024) of WXV 1.
The WXV 2 competition will consist of six teams, playing in a cross-pool format, as a standalone tournament in one location, which will be determined on a year-by-year basis.
Participating teams for 2023 will include two teams from Europe, the fourth-placed team from the cross-regional tournament featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA (Oceania/RAN) alongside one team from Oceania, Asia and Africa.
The sixth-placed regional position in the WXV 2 competition at the end of each season will be relegated to WXV 3.
WXV 3 will be hosted in one venue as a round-robin format and will consist of four teams with the winner and rankings determined by a points table. Participating teams will include two teams from Europe, one team from Asia and the winner of an Africa v South America play-off.
The top ranked regional position in the WXV 3 competition will be promoted to the WXV 2 competition at the end of each season.
A play-off between the fourth-ranked team and next best ranked team from the World Rugby Women’s Rankings will determine regional position for the next year.
Supporting all unions
Recognising that globally women’s high-performance programmes are currently at differing levels and stages, World Rugby is committed to work in partnership with unions to support collective ambitions to progress women’s high-performance programmes forward in a realistic and appropriate pace of development to ensure optimal performance within the WXV.
Collaborative commercial model to grow the sport
World Rugby has also announced that the competition programme will be supported by a dedicated Women in Rugby commercial programme that sets out to actively further profile, engagement and sustainable growth, driving revenue back into the development of the game, supporting another key objective of the Women in Rugby Plan 2017-25.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This is a landmark moment for the sport. Today’s announcement of a new, global international 15s calendar will underpin the future success and accelerate the development of the women’s game.
“By establishing a unified international 15s calendar and introducing WXV we are creating a platform for the women’s international teams to compete in more consistent, competitive and sustainable competitions at regional and global level. At the same time, we are also growing the profile, fanbase and commercial revenue, generating opportunities for women’s rugby through the new Women in Rugby commercial programme.
“This is an ambitious, long-term commitment to make the global game more competitive, to grow the women’s game and support the expansion of Rugby World Cup to 16 teams from 2025 and beyond.”
World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte said: “The new international 15s calendar will provide a consistent, long-term competition pathway and increased international playing opportunities. For the first time ever, women’s high-performance programmes will, in essence, be able to plan from Rugby World Cup to Rugby World Cup with certainty as a result of the new unified global international 15s calendar.”
World Rugby Competitions Operations Manager, Alison Hughes added: “We have been working in collaboration with our member unions, regions and other key stakeholders over the past two years, developing the unified global international 15s calendar and competition offering.
“To grow the game at elite level we need to ensure our member unions have quality, competitive and consistent playing opportunities so they can continue to develop and invest in their women’s high-performance programmes.
“As part of the international 15s calendar development we have focused on strengthening existing regional competitions and also established an exciting new cross-regional competition to increase annual playing opportunities for some of the top teams in the world where it simply did not exist before.”
Driving the participation of women in rugby
World Rugby’s support of the women’s game is driven by its truly global ambitions for the sport as set out in its 2017-25 women’s strategic plan.
Women’s Advisory Committee Chairman, Serge Simon said: “This is momentous for the women’s 15s game. As part of the women’s strategic plan we are committed to delivering world-class high-performance programmes that will produce inspirational results for the women’s game. The new global 15s calendar will enable unions to plan long-term while also increasing quality competition opportunities.”
World Rugby will work with all remaining high-performance teams, outside of the global competitions, to coordinate matches, should they wish to do so, within the global competition window, either in their own region or cross-regional.
World Rugby General Manager of Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir said: “The new global 15s calendar and establishment of WXV is another major step forward for women’s rugby and women in rugby. The unified calendar will support the high-performance goals of World Rugby’s transformational 2017-25 women’s strategic plan to deliver a more competitive regional and global game.
“Through consultation and partnership we will work with unions to support the development of high-performance pathways as they develop their women’s programmes, while supporting the overarching ambition of global growth. In addition, with WXV as a key component of the Women in Rugby commercial programme, it is opening up diversified investment opportunities to grow investment into the women’s game.”