Australia and New Zealand have been granted their wish for the Super Rugby season to proceed uninterrupted, with mid-year Test matches to be pushed back from 2020 as part of changes to the global rugby calendar.
World Rugby made the decision on Thursday to shift the June international window back a month to July after 2019, allowing the Super Rugby competition to wrap up in June without a month-long break.
Since the expansion to 18 teams last year, Super Rugby players not selected for national duties would go into hibernation, with critics saying the Test window comes at a time when the competition was gaining momentum before finals in a turn-off for fans and broadcasters.
The Australia Rugby Union has long preferred a continuous season, but the move has been resisted in the northern hemisphere, particularly by the rich English and French clubs.
Wallabies playing in mid-year Tests from 2020 will have a full Super Rugby season behind them.
The new July international window will flow into the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship, contested by the Wallabies, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, starting in August.
“Our number one priority was to ensure that we could move to an uninterrupted Super Rugby season and we are delighted to have reached that outcome with today’s announcement,” ARU boss Bill Pulver said in a statement on Friday.
The changes will also allow a 39 per cent increase in fixtures between tier-one and tier-two nations, with tier-one countries touring the Pacific Islands, Japan, Canada, United States, Georgia and Romania.
The July Test window will be followed by the current November window, moved forward a week and comprising the first three weeks of that month.
The new arrangement will run from 2020 to 2032.
“(The schedule) sets new standards by prioritising rest periods, promoting equity for the sport’s emerging powers and harmonising the relationship between the international and domestic games,” World Rugby said in a statement.
New Zealand Rugby is also on board.
“This has been an important piece of work which also takes into account the welfare of players, development and advancement opportunities for emerging nations, and an exciting programme of test rugby,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said on Friday.
But uncertainty around the future of Super Rugby – with an Australian franchise rumoured to be on the chopping block – remains as SANZAAR are yet to reveal their decision following last week’s strategic meeting in London.