The Six Nations unions are in advanced discussions about a secret deal to revolutionise the broadcasting rights of Test rugby in Europe in a move that would scupper controversial plans for a World League, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
It is understood that the six unions have held talks about a proposal to pool the broadcasting rights of all their home fixtures across the year, including the Six Nations and autumn Test series, in order to dramatically increase their value using a Premier League football model.
If agreement is reached it would effectively end plans by World Rugby for a global league, which were further debated at a meeting in Los Angeles last month. That model is based on all the leading Test nations pooling their broadcasting and commercial rights.
The threat of the plan is such that The Telegraph understands that in Los Angeles it was agreed that any independent rights negotiations that had the potential to adversely impact the project would be paused until the unions had received the final proposal and made their decision. This position was also endorsed at the World Rugby's executive committee.
One Six Nations source said: "The chances of making this plan work are much higher because we already have the structures in place and it would not mean agreeing to new competitions and all the issues associated with player welfare and diminishing the value of the World Cup."
The project, which is so secretive it has even been given its own name, reflects the considerable scepticism within the Home Unions about the world league plans.
It is understood not to include the rights for British and Irish Lions tours, which are traditionally sold by the host nation in the southern hemisphere, nor affect the current broadcasting deals for the European Champions Cup, given the involvement of the independently-owned English and French clubs.
It is also unlikely to threaten the Six Nations' publicly-stated desire to keep the Championship on terrestrial television - but could see a mix of pay-TV fixtures for autumn matches, as well as matches involving the Barbarians, women's Test matches and Under-20 fixtures.
Currently, rights to the marquee fixtures, including the Six Nations and autumn Tests, are sold on an individual basis across Europe, but the backers of the project believe that the fragmented nature is currently diminishing the collective value and the move to consolidate those TV rights would significantly increase the return.
The Six Nations in the UK is currently shown by both the BBC and ITV as part of a six-year deal signed in 2016. Any new consolidated plan would begin from the start of the 2022 season.
It is understood that those backing the plan see it as both an innovative and revolutionary approach to broadcasting rights from nations who have typically sold their own right themselves and done different deals with different broadcasters in what is an increasingly competitive market.
"This is about the unions' pooling everything and getting a bigger lump sum," said one Irish source.
Another source suggested that the Premier League model of selling a variety of packages, including secondary rights and international rights, could have a significant impact if the six unions agreed to pool their rights. The plan, however, does not include sponsorship or licensing.
The Telegraph revealed in November that there was significant opposition to World League plans within the Six Nations, despite the LA update, which is understood to have included one concrete broadcasting offer.
The suggestion that relegation would be introduced to the Six Nations has also been regarded as a non-starter by the Home Unions, despite the inducement that revenues could be increased by up to £10 million for each union if a global deal can be struck.
The World Rugby plan, which was first formulated in September, is a response to financial pressures being felt by unions in both hemispheres, but particularly the south, where the commercial value of the summer tours are significantly lower than the autumn series in Europe.
The backers believe a league in which the top 12 countries play each other over the course of the year, with the Six Nations and Rugby Championship remaining intact but counting towards the ranking for autumn play-offs, would bring greater value to Test rugby.
The plan includes the introduction of Japan and Fiji to the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship and also puts forward the move to open up the Six Nations, with a play-off between the country who finish bottom of the Championship with the winner of the Europe Rugby Championship.
The proposal will be further debated next month.