New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew admits the deadline is fast looming for World Rugby's Nations Championship, and by no means appears confident it will progress.

Tew and other Southern Hemisphere nations have voiced their support for the global league concept that received a significant boost this week with news of a potential £5billion [NZD$9.7b] investment in the sport over an initial 12-year period.

France and Wales are also believed to support the proposal but with the likes of Ireland and Scotland opposing promotion relegation for the Six Nations, the Nations Championship, and the £7.5m [NZD$14.6m] annual revenue increase it promises each union, could yet be lost.

Reports from the Daily Mail suggest a broad agreement must be reached within the next fortnight.


While the concept is touted to launch from 2022, Tew admits time is of the essence with several broadcast deals due for negotiation.

"There are countries up here and also Sanzaar have got contracts that are coming near the end so there is a bit of time pressure," Tew told the Herald after meetings in Dublin. "Also when you're dealing with such a large commercial transaction time is normally quite precious so we've got to keep moving.

"The exact timeline is not yet determined but we'll have to keep going fast."

The increased revenue, coupled with the chance to establish genuine pathways, makes this rugby's most defining decision since the game turned professional in 1995.

"It's yet to be determined whether it's a game-changer. It's a 12-year commitment so the money on offer may future-proof the game for that length of time."

After roundtable discussions this week, World Rugby is not schedule to meet again until May 22. By that point it is hoped many of the finer details can be worked through but, with conflicting agendas, nothing is guaranteed.

"If not physical meetings there will certainly be some link ups between now and then."

Ultimately, for the Nations Championship proposal to succeed, it requires those in the north to vote for the global game, not only their interests.


Much of the focus has centred on the financial needs of the struggling southern nations but so, too, is England's RFU in a precarious position.

New Zealand All Blacks Northern Tour. Photo / Getty
New Zealand All Blacks Northern Tour. Photo / Getty

Tew expects lobbying to continue over the coming weeks. He made it clear the decision remains on a knife edge.

"There's been some conversations over the last few days but there's a variety of stakeholders and everyone comes from a slightly different position with different needs, attitudes and perceptions so we just want to find some common ground.

"We haven't found that yet to be fair but we've got something that's worth working on. If we get there we get there, if we don't we won't.

"I'm never a betting man but it's fair to say there's still a way to go. At least we've got something very positive to work on."

One of the major threats stems from a £500m (NZD$963m) offer for a 30 per cent stake in the Six Nations, the jewel of Northern Hemisphere rugby, from private equity company CVC Capital Partners.

"Clearly if the Six Nations sell their rights to their existing competition without any change then that is going to have an impact."

The Nations Championship risks devaluing the World Cup, rugby's cash cow, and Tew outlined other barriers to the concept which would see leading nations play each other once in a calendar year, with the two best teams featuring in a maximum of 12 tests.

"There's more travel for the Northern Hemisphere teams; there's an extra week in the November window, there's still a debate around promotion relegation and how the pathway would work for the emerging nations.

"The positive is the offer that's there provides significant uplift in funding that we think would help us find solutions to those challenges. That's the work that will now continue."

That offer comes from Switzerland-based global sports marketing company Infront who has previously worked closely with Fifa and would, if agreement is reached, package and sell the global rugby broadcast rights.

Amazon is expected to be the major partner but Tew suggested rights could be divided a number of ways.

"They [Infront] haven't been to the market yet but they obviously back themselves.

"As we understand it there is some good potential there around the world for free to air coverage. There will be some direct to consumer development but they'll also be talking to traditional broadcasters because we're keen to stay connected to our fans.

"The big move here is we've put all of international rugby in one sales pitch. That helps drives the value."

A key part of the Nations Championship plans centre on Japan and Fiji entering the Rugby Championship.

Should this comes to pass, Tew said NZ Rugby would be proactive in helping both nations get up to speed otherwise Sanzaar risks devaluing its premier competition with one-sided fixtures.

"It's obviously our most precious product so we've got to make sure we protect that but we are open to expansion, provided the teams coming in are going to be competitive and have got the infrastructure in behind them.

"The most pressing issue for the Fijians will be getting their players released from the clubs they all play for. We've been working with Fiji, Samoa, Tonga for years to try help their development programmes.

"One of the good things about this is there is a strong commitment to developing the second division of the game. Teams that are not yet up with us will a have an opportunity to be there over a period of time.

"From World Rugby's point of view, the ultimate goal is to have a much more competitive Rugby World Cup in three or four cycles' time. Whether that transpires or not is another matter."