A global season has been discussed among men’s rugby fans since the game turned professional almost 30 years ago but with no resolution. A world league tournament has also been held in recent years but has yet to be formally announced. The women now have both matches, and the first WXV tournament will begin later this year.
Announced back in March 2021 as part of an aligned global calendar, WXV is a three-tier tournament featuring 18 countries that will take place for the first time in October and November. Teams qualify for the various leagues through regional tournaments, such as the Women’s Six Nations.
After finishing in the top three of the recent championship, England, France and Wales booked their places in WXV1 where the top three teams will be in the Pacific League Four, which will feature Australia , Canada, New Zealand and the USA participate in it and ends in mid-July.
The fixtures will not be confirmed until the final is known but it will be a cross-pool format with each side playing three games and it is likely that the Red Roses will face the Black Men for the first time since their loss. the World Cup final of the year – and on New Zealand soil. World Rugby confirmed on Friday that New Zealand will host WXV1, with matches played in different cities over three weekends, 21 and 28 October and 4 November.
Therein lies one of the flaws of this year’s launch event: two of those weekends clash with the men’s World Cup semifinals and final, so how much exposure and cut will WXV get?
WXV’s “mission,” according to a World Rugby press release, is to raise the profile of the women’s game but it will be difficult to do so while the sport’s biggest event is reaching its peak at the same time. The two competitions may take place in different time zones but rugby fans and the media will focus firmly on events in France, with broadcasters especially unlikely to have huge budgets or airtime to bid for rights.
Sally Horrox, World Rugby’s head of women’s rugby, hopes the tournament can “send the wave for men’s rugby” but admits the first year is “not ideal”. She said: “Is it a soft launch for lack of a better phrase? Not a great year to launch, not great with the way the dates fell.
“It is fair to say that this year it was necessary to ensure that we hosted this competition to give more competition to our unions and to improve standards. That was a real need and we couldn’t wait any longer. We felt a real moral and sporting responsibility. From here we will kick on and get bigger and better.”
Looking beyond 2023 it may be worth changing the qualifying process. As the teams and fixtures for each league are only confirmed less than three months before the games start, this means that the window to create buzz and sell tickets around the games is limited.
We know Scotland, who are fourth in the Six Nations and the bottom team in Pacific Division Four, will go into WXV2, which will be played in Cape Town, South Africa, on the weekend of 14, 21 and 28 October Autumn. The winner of the play-off between Italy and Spain will also go into the second tier and the loser will join Ireland in WXV3, the venue for that competition to be decided once all the qualifiers are known.
The fact that WXV gives the likes of Colombia, Madagascar and Fiji more international fixtures is certainly a positive, and inter-hemispheric alignment is also welcome, but may not happen until the third iteration in 2026 ( it will not be staged in World Cup years such as 2025) that its full potential is achieved.