International rugby is braced for the biggest changes in the professional era, possibly the game's history, with plans to create a World League that is set to be signed off as early as next month according to the New Zealand Herald.
According to the Herald Japan and the USA are set to join the Rugby Championship to form the World League and the paper understands that a 12-team World League has captured the imagination of the leading nations and that an unknown broadcaster has already tabled an offer to finance the concept in a deal that will be worth around $10m-$14m a season for each nation.
The idea of a World League has been rumoured over the past few months but there is some urgency to sign the idea off before the Six Nations and Rugby Championship start negotiations to renew their existing broadcasting rights with executives also looking to have the League up and running by 2020.
The Six Nations would remain unchanged by the new league while USA and Japan would join the Rugby Championship over the likes of the Pacific Island nations. Essentially the new format would see all 12 nations play each other once in the calendar year, with a semi-final and final to be played in late November, possibly early December.
How the 12 nations would be split:
The Rugby Championship: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, USA and Japan
The Six Nations: England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Wales
There were previous suggestions that relegation would come into play for both competitions but the Herald suggests otherwise, meaning that Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would be left out in the cold once again.
Six Nations sides would travel South after the Six Nations, in July, and play three test against any of the three nations involved in the Rugby Championship. For example, England could play South Africa, Japan and New Zealand.
This would effectively bring an end to June test series with the Rugby Championship changing to a round-robin in August. The World League will then be completed by the southern sides travelling north in November to play the three teams they didn't play in July.
The top four teams on the table will then play a semi-final and final in the Northern Hemisphere. The Herald understands that there is a provisional agreement for the broadcast rights and they will see each union net anything between $10 million to $14 million a year of additional revenue.
A concern for New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia would be the fact that they would have off only once for the Bledisloe Cup with additional fixtures between the two nations needing to be negotiated. The two sides will face each other twice this year, outside of the World Cup, for the coveted trophy but usually, the two sides would play three Bledisloe Cup Tests.