World Rugby ‘could not wait any longer’ to launch WXV
Sally Horrox believes World Rugby had a “moral and sporting responsibility” to launch its new annual global competition WXV this year, even though the inaugural edition will clash with Rugby World Cup 2023.
World Rugby initially unveiled the three-tiered, 18-team tournament in March 2021 with the aim to increase competition for nations across the globe and drive competitiveness ahead of RWC 2025.
That announcement came two weeks after the decision was taken to postpone RWC 2021 for 12 months due to the pandemic, meaning in turn that WXV could not get under way until this year.
On Friday, World Rugby released more details about the inaugural campaign, confirming New Zealand and South Africa as hosts of WXV 1 and WXV 2 respectively, and unveiling a new brandmark it says gives the competition a “fresh, unique visual identity”.
The WXV 3 host will not be announced until at least the end of July, when all six qualifiers have been confirmed, but we now know that the second and third tiers will kick off on the weekend of 14 October, the same date as RWC 2023 quarter-finals are scheduled to be played.
WXV 1 will get under way in New Zealand a week later, meaning the top division’s third and final round will be staged on the weekend of 4 November.
That decision, taken in consultation with unions, ensures those matches will be played a week after the RWC 2023 final and will give the competition’s top tier “clear water” as it reaches its conclusion.
Horrox, World Rugby Chief of Women’s Rugby, admitted it is not an ideal time to launch the competition, but she believes WXV has an opportunity to “ride the wave” generated by the men’s tournament in France.
“It’s fair to say this year, the imperative was making sure that we host this competition to give our unions more competition, improve standards,” she said.
“That’s the absolute imperative, we could not wait any longer to do that. We felt a real moral and sporting responsibility and from here we kick on and we’ll get bigger and better.”
World Rugby is being supported with “multi-million pound investment funding” from partners Mastercard, Capgemini and Gallagher in its delivery of WXV.
That funding is guaranteed for an initial two-year period as the game prepares for the expanded 16-team RWC 2025 in England, at which point a review into the first two editions will be undertaken.
“In 2025, we break WXV [for RWC 2025] and we will take a really clear look at it with our union partners to design, improve, develop it in whatever way is felt best for the game from ’26 onwards,” Horrox said.
Seven teams have already booked their place in the end-of-year competition via their results in European competitions.
England, France and Wales – the top three in this year’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations – will compete in WXV 1, which Horrox confirmed will be staged in three sites across both the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
They will be joined by the top three teams from the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023, which features RWC 2021 winners New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA and will conclude in Ottawa on 14 July.
Scotland, meanwhile, have qualified for WXV 2 thanks to their fourth-place finish in the Six Nations and they will be joined by either Italy or Spain – who are due to contest a play-off – and one team from Africa, Asia and Oceania. The inaugural edition of WXV 2 will be played in Cape Town. The team that finishes fourth in the Pacific Four Series will also play in WXV 2.
Ireland’s prize for their first wooden spoon in 19 years is a place in WXV 3, in which the loser of the Italy-Spain play-off and one team from Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America will also compete.
WXV will increase the guaranteed number of tests contested by participating nations, who will each play three matches in a cross-pool format, and World Rugby hope grouping teams by performance will result in more competitive fixtures.
According to former Red Roses captain Sarah Hunter, who was unveiled as an ambassador for Gallagher’s World Rugby partnership on Wednesday, that will be key to WXV’s potential success.
“I think having the tiered system allows the best teams in the world to be playing against each other, to be pushing each other while giving other teams the most appropriate competition level to develop, improve and to push themselves,” she said. “Having recently played for England, [to know] that you’ll be playing some of the best teams in the world, it can only make you better.”
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