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England to be setting for rugby’s ‘natural evolution’

England has today (Tuesday) been revealed as the destination for an innovative new 12-a-side rugby union tournament which aims to have the world’s best male and female players compete in a franchise system.

Kicking off in August 2022, World 12s aspires to bring £250m (€290.5m/$344.7m) of new financial stimulus into the global game over the next five years, while attracting a new global fanbase.

World 12s has assembled a board and executive team consisting of former English Rugby Football Union (RFU) CEO Ian Ritchie (chairman), former New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) CEO Steve Tew (non-executive director), and former chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Gareth Davies (non-executive director).  

Although venues are yet to be disclosed, the plan is for the inaugural men’s edition to be played in England across three concurrent weekends provisionally set for August/September 2022. Each franchise of 24 players will play in a round-robin format before the knockout stages crown the champions.  

With Rugby World Cup 2021 now taking place in New Zealand in 2022 due to COVID-19, the women’s format of World 12s will launch from 2023 and will be played in tandem with the men’s tournament. The vision is for the World 12s to move to different global destinations each year and offer equal winning prize money for the men and women’s competitions.

Ritchie said: “World 12s is a natural evolution for rugby union. We feel that this is a game for our changing, fast-paced world that can excite a global fan base in the way that we have seen with the IPL (Indian Premier League) or most recently The Hundred in cricket.  

“In bringing together the most exciting players under the stewardship of some of the brightest rugby minds with commercial backing, we are looking to propel rugby forward and lay a positive roadmap for how the game is perceived for future generations.

“Early and informal discussions with World Rugby, unions, clubs and player associations have been constructive, and in announcing today we can continue our consultative conversations and collaborations with the relevant stakeholders.”

Organisers said World12s has been backed by a “UK-based financial consortium”, with the competition designed to complement the existing global calendar. The inaugural tournament will see 192 of the world’s best male players from Tier One and Tier Two nations selected via auction to represent eight franchised teams.

To help boost the development of the global game, each franchise will be required to select at least two players from Tier Two nations as well as one international Under-20s player. The eight franchised teams will be decided by auction which will take place later this year.

The franchised teams will be determined by geographical location and subject to World 12s criteria, with a keen focus to develop homegrown players as well as improve participation from emerging nations.

Tew added: “This is a truly exciting venture in the development of our global game. We believe rugby needs a new, innovative, fast flowing, and exciting concept, but one that remains authentic to rugby’s roots.

“We have assembled a strong team of rugby leaders with a wealth of rugby and commercial experience, and we look forward to the continued discussions with global stakeholders.”

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