England have reportedly opted out of World Rugby’s proposed Nations League, with the fate of the proposed tournament expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Interim Rugby Football Union CEO Nigel Melville has already publicly outlined England’s concerns over the Nations League, but according to a report in The Daily Mail, the RFU have privately told key nations, including Australia, of their intention to reject the proposal.
At a World Rugby meeting earlier this month, unions around the world were informed March 29 would be the deadline for signing up to the Nations League, or it would not go ahead. That deadline has since been extended to April 5, but even that is creeping up.
Southern hemisphere nations are expected to confirm their support for the planned concept later this week.
One of the key reasons in Melville’s public stance on the issue was player welfare.
“The narrative makes sense, but there are obvious concerns coming out of the proposal,” said Melville on the RFU’s website earlier in the week.
“If you take them in order, player welfare is a significant one. We have to look at the July window. You could end up playing South Africa, Argentina and Japan, which I think was the proposal for 2026, which would be a difficult one. I don’t think anyone fancies that holiday.
“The other one is in a Lions year you’d have two games against Japan and Fiji. That’s probably fine. Or on a normal year we may play Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
“Some of them work, some of them don’t. From a player welfare perspective, is it fair to ask players to jump on a plane straight after a hard season and ask them to play three games? We usually stay in one country or two countries close together. To go to three is bit of a challenge.”
Given southern hemisphere teams already go to Europe at the end of each season, and European teams do it the other way around in July, that argument is unlikely to get much support, particularly from SANZAAR nations.
Melville also expressed concerns with the financial viability of being relegated out of the top division.
“The second point is promotion and relegation. I don’t think anyone is against the principles of it,” said Melville.
“In order to make it work Six Nations-wise, you need a credible tier two tournament. I don’t know what you’d be relegated into at the moment. That tier two tournament is something we’ve got to build, World Rugby has a responsibility to build that.
“For us, being relegated would be catastrophic, commercially. The catastrophe isn’t just the team being relegated, it’s our ability to fund the game as a governing body in England. Can we fund the community game in England to the level we do now if we don’t have the revenues we have?”
While it’s unclear of the stance from the rest of the Six Nations unions in Europe, it’s understood they will continue attempting to carry out their own plans, which includes a new and lucrative TV deal.