The All Blacks’ test calendar is set for a shake-up from 2026, with Sanzaar and the Six Nations establishing a new cross-hemisphere competition.
The new 12-team tournament will take place over the existing July and November test windows, featuring the Six Nations sides, all four Rugby Championship teams and two invitational nations to join the southern hemisphere representatives chosen through a Sanzaar-run selection process.
The competition will operate in alternating years outside of the British and Irish Lions Tours and Rugby World Cups.
The new tournament will be in addition to the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, which will hold their spots on the international calendar. Generally, the Six Nations runs between February and March, while the Rugby Championship is held over August and September, although it is in July this year due to the World Cup.
Outside of World Cup years, the July window is often used for bilateral test series, while the November window has regularly seen southern hemisphere teams travel north to take on their rivals.
While the new tournament has been confirmed, there is no indication as to how many tests it will add to each nation’s respective schedules.
A second-tier competition will also be run, with promotion-relegation matches being explored - at this stage, these matches aren’t expected to feature until 2030 - to give the emerging nations an opportunity to earn their way into regular test rugby against the world’s best.
The second-tier competition will feature teams from Europe and the rest of the world, with Sanzaar and the Six Nations actively involved in cementing the link between the two divisions.
“Establishing the two competitions will pave the way for promotion and relegation matches, contributing towards a valuable pathway for teams, and will support ambitions to sustain and grow the global game,” a joint statement released by the Six Nations and Sanzaar said.
Confirmation of the new venture comes after long-standing reports the two parties had been working on establishing a World Nations Championship. The Telegraph reported in March that the blueprint for the tournament had been agreed, and since then players, leagues and major stakeholders had been consulted about the endeavour.
“The introduction of the new elite international competition is testament to the strong ambition across all parties, motivated by delivering context and a stronger narrative around the July and November windows, that can excite players and bring new fans to the game,” the statement said
“The impact this will have on the game will be to drive its growth and long-term sustainability. This runs alongside the work being done to add greater clarity and balance to the club and international calendar; a process Sanzaar and Six Nations Rugby remain committed to help deliver.”