Test rugby calendar to 'optimise' existing windows

London (AFP) –


No new worldwide men's rugby union competition will be launched before 2024, with the existing July and November Test match windows to be "optimised" instead, the sport's global governing body said on Wednesday.

Th problem of aligning a congested fixture list in what is predominately a winter game in both the northern and southern hemispheres, has plagued rugby in the professional era.

Wednesday's statement from World Rugby said competition format change is "key to increasing interest and value".

It added that the existing July and November windows for international touring matches provide "the optimal environment" for any new competition.

Talks involving national unions, club competitions and player representatives brought an agreement that any new competition format would not operate in a men's World Cup year, with the next one in 2023, and would be modified in a year when the British and Irish Lions are touring, as they are scheduled to do this year.

No new competition would launch before 2024.

"World Rugby, The Nations and International Rugby Players will continue to explore and refine possible new international competition formats to optimise the July and November windows," the statement said.

International Rugby Players chief executive Omar Hassanein responded to World Rugby's statement by saying his organisation would "continue to stress the importance of travel, load and recovery factors for players".

He also called for those involve to "set aside any historic differences and make decisions based solely on the betterment of our game".

An already difficult situation has been complicated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Test rugby resumed last June after months of lockdown, world champions South Africa opted out of the Rugby Championship on health grounds and together with New Zealand and Australia cancelled their traditional end of year tours of Europe.

They were replaced by the Autumn Nations Cup, which saw Europe's Six Nations joined by Fiji and Georgia with all the matches played behind closed doors. That is also set to be the case with the 2021 Six Nations that starts this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 makes fate of June an July's Lions tour of South Africa uncertain. A decision is expected later this month.