World Rugby Council agree global calendar

Damian Penaud celebrates after scoring an intercept try 20/11/2021
A global calendar that has been decades in the making was this week agreed by the World Rugby Council, signalling a new era for the men’s and women’s game.

A global calendar that has been decades in the making was this week agreed by the World Rugby Council, signalling a new era for the men’s and women’s game.

It has been hailed as a landmark moment for the sport, produced against a backdrop of major collaboration and compromise across all areas of rugby. Its ultimate goal? To create the strongest possible sport for the players, and one that will increase fan growth.

There are expected to be multiple positive knock-on effects from this exciting new four-year cycle of international rugby. So, what does Global Calendar reform mean for rugby fans?

Aligned calendars will create greater relevance for players and fans – leading to a wider audience – and also have a positive impact on revenue opportunities, delivering sustained growth of the game on and off the pitch. Strengthening the women’s calendar is a momentous step in one of the biggest growth areas of the whole sport. For fans, as of 2026, the levels of engagement and reach among fans will be the strongest it has ever been – taking the women’s game to another level.

Greater clarity will also come from these new calendars. Created with the players and their associations, they will put an end to the disjointed nature of the men’s and women’s club and international game, paving the way for new fans to join the sport to grow its audience. Essentially, fans will be able to follow their favourite players from club to country throughout the men’s and women’s game.

What it means for Six Nations Rugby logistically from 2026 onwards is simple: one less fallow week for the men’s Championship ensuring consistent fan engagement, and a three-week gap between the conclusion of the men’s and the start of the women’s Championships, as opposed to the current one week.

Enhancing the existing July and November international windows with a new biannual elite men’s competition as of 2026 means a clearly defined four-year cycle of international men’s rugby, alongside Rugby World Cup and the British & Irish Lions. This will showcase the best teams and players every two years.

The rise of emerging nations through increased cross-over fixture opportunities, outside of the biannual competition, and a World Rugby-led Challenger Division underneath its elite counterpart means improvement for the whole rugby landscape. Fans will get behind new teams and follow exciting new players, and as of 2030, there will be promotion and relegation between the elite men’s competition and the Challenger Division.

Commitment to player welfare has been the biggest driving force behind the reform, which came to fruition through working closely with associations and the players. It will involve clear guidance on player release and their workload, alongside strengthening global welfare guidelines and initiatives to safeguard their wellbeing for years to come.