SANZAAR Unions committed through 2025 as Nations Championship plan re-emerges

The Rugby Championship will continue as a four-team tournament through 2025, after SANZAAR confirmed its member Unions had committed to the organisation for the next three years.

But it's unlikely to halt rumours that the Springboks could uproot and join the Six Nations after 2025, while reports that a Nations Championship is again on the radar have also re-emerged.

The Rugby Championship is, however, locked in for three more seasons, with SANZAAR confident the tournament will return to its home-and-away format after two years when the southern hemisphere showpiece -- the Tri Nations was contested in 2020 -- was largely hosted in Australia.

SANZAAR announced a move to the "mini tours" format ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the tournament will at last hopefully be conducted in that fashion later this year.

"The pandemic has created a very unusual sporting environment over the last two years with match and commercial delivery severely affected," SANZAAR chairman Marcelo Rodqiguez said. "This has seen the member unions work very hard to keep rugby alive and present during COVID and at times this has not been easy.

"Indeed there has been much speculation about the future but it is now great that all members have committed through until the end of 2025 as a minimum. This means we can concentrate on ensuring The Rugby Championship remains as one of the best rugby tournaments on the world calendar."

The mini tour format will see teams play two Tests in the same country, with the All Blacks to host the Pumas, the Wallabies to host the Springboks, the Pumas to host the Wallabies and the Springboks to host the All Blacks. The rest of the schedule will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

As for speculation the Boks are merely treading water before attempting to join the Six Nations, SANZAAR chief executive Brendan Morris has acknowledged the fact that the southern hemisphere alliance remains uncertain beyond 2025.

In an interview with stuff.co.nz, Morris said the South African Rugby Union [SARU] had late last year made SANZAAR aware it was exploring its options, but also that it shouldn't be taken for granted that SARU would definitely up and leave southern hemisphere rugby completely from 2026.

Meanwhile, a Nations Championship concept will reportedly once again be on the World Rugby agenda when Union executives meet in London next month.

The idea was originally killed off in 2019 amid fears from some Unions about the planned promotion and relegation between tiers, while the powerful European clubs were also reluctant to have their seasons further impacted.

But there appears to be renewed vigour to create such a Championship this time around, with the financial realities of the COVID-19 pandemic placing continued pressure on national Unions across the globe.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Nations Championship plan remains similar to the one that was defeated in 2019, though it is this time a joint proposal from SANZAAR and the Six Nations, as opposed to a World Rugby creation. The governing body is, however, involved.

The key selling point for such a tournament is that it could unlock badly needed funds -- through television rights -- by adding impetus to the July and November Test windows where games would be worth Championship points instead of just silverware. It would also help establish a true international pecking order every two years, rather than four.

"If we can work together for an outcome that produces a global champion every two years, engages our fan bases more than we do now and throughout the year, and provides a pathway for rugby's emerging nations to improve and progress, then we can be in a much better position to grow our game and take it to the next level," SANZAAR boss Morris told the Herald.

Rugby Australia supported the original World Rugby proposal in 2019 and chief executive Andy Marinos indicated to ESPN late last year his Union remained engaged on the prospect of revised Nations Championship plan.

"Well those conversations haven't stopped, we've had a continuation of what we've now re-framed under the global season, but it does remain important that we get some sort of alignment across the two hemispheres," Marinos told ESPN in November.

"From an Australian point-of-view, we remain open, we remain engaged, we remain a very keen participant around the table to continue to explore what is the best possible competition structure that we can deliver in both the north and the south on a continuous basis, because if we want to grow our game, we want to make our game attractive, both from a domestic and international perspective, we've got to continue to evolve. I think that's certainly the mindset that we've got.

"From a SANZAAR perspective, that is also our mindset, we are very willing and open to engage, and we've just got to make sure we've got the right mix of structure that works in both markets at those times of year. It's not only an issue around the Test matches, it could also be an extension of around what are the Test windows and how best we can position that with the club game and everything else to a more coherent season."