England criticism of league challenged

England's reluctance to accept a relegation system has been challenged by World Rugby. Photo:...
England's reluctance to accept a relegation system has been challenged by World Rugby. Photo: Getty Images
Compromise strikes at the heart of any global league proposal.

But as along as the Six Nations remain resistant to change, as long as self-interest to protect their patch persists, the south will continue to be shutout of a sustainable financial future.

World Rugby's Nations Championship is far from perfect. Valid concerns have been raised by all parties around scheduling, player welfare and availability; genuine pathways to benefit tier two nations and sacrifice that change inevitably brings.

But from the moment promotion-relegation was mooted, many Six Nations unions laced up the trainers and prepared to run a mile. This is the fundamental barrier to progress on this proposal.

Truth is the Six Nations have long opposed opening their borders – just ask Georgia.

Ireland, Scotland and Italy want no part of World Rugby's promotion-relegation concept. And while Wales are open minded and France are on board, acting England chief Nigel Melville made his thoughts clear yesterday, despite standing accused of hypocrisy due to his polar opposite views when it comes to relegation in England's Premiership competition.

National unions have until April 5 to sign a letter of intent to support the Nations Championship. By that point, every detail and debate does not have to be settled but it does need a near-united commitment to work towards a model in time for the World Rugby council meeting in May.

Broadcast negotiations are pending in both hemispheres and, so, time is pressing.

With unanimous agreement needed from the Six Nations, agreement looks increasingly tenuous.

Over the next week, World Rugby will hastily meet the respective Six Nations unions to try provide last-minute financial assurances and, ultimately, attempt to convince them that relegation is not the catastrophic fall into the abyss, as Melville so pointedly suggested.

Jeopardy of relegation for major nations such as England appears a smokescreen. Under the preferred proposal, not only would England have to lose 11 tests in a calendar year but then also lose the playoff match, possibly at a neutral venue.

That appears as likely as Twickenham dropping ticket prices.

With up to £35 million ($NZ68m) every two years in additional revenue generated by investment from sports marketing company Infront, and the prospect of relegation being deferred until a second tier league is fully established, the threat is hardly imminent or as crippling as Melville would have you believe.

Furthermore, World Rugby is promising a significant parachute payment to any relegated union, and protection of revenues over the initial 12-year period.

"We understand reservations where change is proposed, but we continue to believe in a concept that has the best interests of the global game at heart," a World Rugby spokesperson said.

"We continue to be open to all feedback to make the model the best that it can be for all our unions, but it is important to clarify that any union that is relegated would be guaranteed a parachute payment, guaranteed their current media and sponsorship revenues from international windows through to 2033, and will have accrued additional significant incremental revenue for each year that they are in the top division.

"The second division would be a fully-fledged competition that will receive significant investment. We believe in it, not just as a pathway, but as a spectacle, and Infront are of the same opinion. It is fundamental to their involvement and they are excited about the commercial and sporting potential of a strong second division."

Posturing in attempts to shape the narrative will continue but the more Melville spoke yesterday, the more the theme of the Six Nations against the world seemed relevant.

"The Six Nations is pretty special, it has taken 135 years to build so let's protect that and not take away from the Six Nations," Melville said. "Can we add to the Six Nations, that is the question. We need to look closely at it. It is a Six Nations decision. We need to agree as a group.

"You might lose what it is. If it becomes something bigger do you lose the identity of Six Nations? I don't really think you will because it is so special to everybody but over time will that happen?"

If not now, then, when, will the Six Nations ever be willing to compromise?

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