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NZR chairman claims 'opportunity wasted'

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'Nations Championship was a golden opportunity to grow the game internationally but is seemingly lost'

New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey has slammed what he has described as a lost opportunity after World Rugby conceded defeat on its World Rugby Nations Championship concept.

In an interesting departure from New Zealand Rugby’s party line, which has merely said it is disappointed that the international rugby calendar has been officially scrapped, Impey, who is also Sanzaar’s chairman, said it was an opportunity wasted.

World Rugby’s world nations concept revolved around a promotion/relegation calendar which was aimed at the high-profile Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides but which most assumed would have hurt the ambitions of the Tier Two nations, including the Pacific Islands.

In a statement reported by the New Zealand Herald, the Sanzaar nations of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa said that while they had some concerns over elements of what was presented, most notably promotion/relegation, they added through Impey: “The Nations Championship was a golden opportunity to grow the game internationally but is seemingly lost. 

“Sanzaar remains convinced that such a revamped international calendar is the right course of action supported by professional cross-border competitions such as Super Rugby and the various European premierships.”

It is thought that the Six Nations sides, in particular Italy and Scotland, had issues with the relegation side of the equation. Without it, the Pacific nations would have been locked out.

“All Sanzaar unions signed the letter of offer with World Rugby to continue negotiations,” Impey said. “Sanzaar has been consistent in its support of the concept as we believed that this was an important decision for the future of the world game.

“Furthermore, the ability to have promotion/relegation in both hemispheres as proposed by World Rugby is a principle position with which Sanzaar agreed. That would have created a meaningful pathway and aspirations for emerging nations.”

A major stumbling block was the ability of Tier Two nations, including those such as Fiji and Samoa, to force their way on to the top table, but Impey added: “While World Rugby has led discussions around the Nations Championship concept, Sanzaar and its member unions, have been in constant and positive dialogue with our broadcast partners to secure the future of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.”

New Zealand Rugby was far less crictical in a statement, saying, according to boss Steve Tew, who is in his final months in charge: “We want to acknowledge the tireless efforts and leadership from World Rugby to get the proposal to this point. Creating a new international competition was always going to be a challenging conversation for world rugby nations.

“The challenges have been complex and multi-faceted as we sought to find a model that balanced demands of fans, with the welfare of all players, growing the commercial strength of our competition and ensuring we were providing a pathway for other nations. 

“While there were some serious issues to be resolved such as the varying positions on promotion/relegation, New Zealand Rugby remained committed to continuing dialogue to see if these could be overcome for the greater good of the game.”

WATCH: Why World Rugby has scrapped its Nations Championship plans

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'Nations Championship was a golden opportunity to grow the game internationally but is seemingly lost'