World rugby today launched a new global women’s international competition that will include at least 16 teams and serves as a global league.
In a virtual press conference, featuring Interim Chief Executive Alan Gilpin, Competitions Operations Manager Alison Hughes, and GM of Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir, the competition was outlined.
WXV will launch in 2023 (delayed a year because the RWC 2021 was postponed a year) and will have three tiers.
World Rugby will put in an initial £6.4 million investment to fund the competition.
The competition will run in September and October every year except years when a RWC 15s is held (the plan had been to launch in 2022 but that’s been delayed until 2023 because the women’s RWC has been bumped back a year).
Teams will qualify annually into the WXV competitions courtesy of their finishing positions within the respective existing annual regional competitions.
How This Impacts the USA
There is no annual international tournament for the USA, but one will be created. Here’s how it works:
Tier 1 will include the top three teams from the Women’s Six Nations in Europe, and the top three teams from a four-team cross-regional Oceania/Rugby Americas North competition. Those six teams then will play each other in World Rugby’s cross-pool format (teams from Pool A play the teams in Pool B).
The team that finishes 4th in the Oceania/RAN will still play, as it will be funneled to Tier 2, which will include two teams from Europe and one team each from Oceania, Asia, and Africa.
There is also a Tier 3 which will include teams from South America, Europe, Asia, and a playoff.
Some Highlights From The Presser
World Rugby officers stressed that unions and domestic competitions all bought in enthusiastically to the model. What it will be is that domestic competitions (such as the Women’s Premier League in the US) will have to adjust its schedule to accommodate WXV.
“It’s a slight change and they’ve been happy to make it,” said Hughes of domestic competitions.
The £6.4 million will be used to help fund the competition as it gets started, but the host nations for each Tier will also be heavily involved in making the entire concept commercially viable.
In addition, broadcast is a huge part of this, and Gilpin said WXV would be tied in with the new-format (expanded to 16 teams) women’s Rugby World Cup starting in 2025 as a package to entice broadcasters to support the women’s game.
Hughes added that they have already been in discussions with broadcasters and said World Rugby wanted to support free-to-consumer broadcasters and streamers wherever possible.
“This is an enormous aspirational opportunities to bring young girls to rugby,” she said., adding that increasing the audience was a big part of that.
Having a global schedule also allows World Rugby and the participating nations to point to a more regular calendar. This can help land better broadcast partners, sponsors, and help them plan in their High Performance programs, said Sadleir.
“This helps create certainty,” she said.
The World Rugby representatives said their organization is in this for the long haul and that’s critical, because something this ambitious cannot be abandoned if it encounters some hiccups along the way.
“This is a real game-changer,” enthused Sadleir. “We have achieved something never before done in World Rugby.”
A statement from World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont:
“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.”
This is enormously good news for the USA, because a lack of a set calendar, set number of test matches, and regular competition to sell to fans and sponsors as well as help improve the team has been a huge problem for decades.
Now the Eagle women can be sure they play at least two or three games against some of the world’s best in June (the Oceania/RAN Qualifier) and then three more games against three more of the world’s best.
If the USA has a down year and comes last in the Qualifier, they still get three more challenging internationals in WXV Tier 2.
So the Eagles are guaranteed five or six (depending on the format of the Qualifier) challenging test matches every year.
In addition, the Qualifier and the WXV proper are opportunities for the USA to host games and make them into real events that fans will go to and pay to see.
If sponsorship and support follow, then players might be paid, and there could be more structure around how the USA team is put together and how it succeeds.