Some of rugby union’s biggest names have announced plans to launch a new 12-a-side tournament, World 12s, in England next year.
The competition would feature eight franchise teams playing in 30-minute matches over three consecutive weekends in August and September.
World 12s chairman Ian Ritchie, the former head of the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, said investment was already in place to get the tournament to launch.
“All sports need innovation. We need to be fast, exciting, innovative and entertaining. That’s what we believe World 12s brings to the party,” said Ritchie.
“It’s a different economic model which will also encompass new investors and finance into the sport which is complementary. We believe this is a big step forward for the sport.”
Will there be a women’s World 12s?
A women’s version of World 12s, which would feature equal prize money, is planned to start in 2023 to avoid a clash with next year’s World Cup.
“Women’s rugby has been on path to professionalism for long time now. World 12s could be an interesting progression of that,” said former New Zealand player Hannah Porter.
“I think it’s got real potential to be like The Hundred was for cricket this year.”
Why World 12s has been compared to cricket’s IPL
The competition, which has been compared to cricket’s Indian Premier League, would involve two auctions: one for franchises from potential owners and another for teams for players.
Squads would feature 24 players, of which two would have to be from a Tier 2 nation and one would need to be an under-20 international, and be subject to a salary cap.
“When the IPL started every rugby player was thinking ‘when is that happening to us?’,” said former South Africa captain Schalk Burger.
“The IPL wasn’t well received by traditionalists and I think rugby is at that stage where we need to be more progressive.”
England is the most likely destination for the first edition of the men’s event, but the plan is for it to take place in different locations around the world each year.
Hansen backs rule changes for 12-a-side game
Organisers said they were discussing possible modifications to the rules in order to make it faster and more exciting. The scoring system will remain the same as XVs rugby.
“The game has been around a long time and we’re pretty used to it. We’ve probably got a little bit complacent,” said former New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
“This allows us to play a game of rugby that’s going to be fast and about skill. It’s a really big opportunity to look at some of the laws and make them simpler.”
Ritchie confident on securing approval and player release
World Rugby is yet to approve the plans and player release is likely to be a sticking point given concerns over the calendar and welfare.
“There are a lot of stakeholders and this is the beginning of the process. We all know the calendar and player release are going to be issues of difficulty,” Ritchie added.
“We hope people will listen to change with an open mind, recognise the positive nature of what we’re bringing to the party and engage.”
£250m plans backed by private investors
Ritchie said World 12s was backed by a consortium of private individuals whose investment would help secure 192 of the game’s top players for both the men’s and women’s competitions.
The tournaments could provide £250m of “new financial stimulus” over five years, organisers said.
“One of the reasons we felt able to come to this stage is we have backers behind it to get it to launch and underpin it,” he said.
“One is under no illusions that in order to get player release we have to make payments that are competitive.”