World Rugby recently announced it will be investing £6.4 million into a new tournament for women’s international rugby union which is being called WXV.
The tournament is set to begin in 2023 and will involve 16 teams put into three tiers, offering them consistent matches against stellar opposition in preparation for the 2025 World Cup.
This idea will be a fantastic way to finally put women’s rugby on the map and is in an important step in increasing the popularity of the sport globally.
While there will certainly be benefits from this tournament for the more established sides like England, New Zealand and Canada, smaller teams such as Japan or Russia will undoubtedly be excited about the promise of playing in games against the very best.
The current problem with international women’s (and men’s) rugby right now is the limited opportunities for lesser sides to face tougher opposition on a regular basis.
It makes it close to impossible for the Spain’s or Samoa’s of the rugby world to improve their game if they are not exposed to top class opponents. People learn from the best.
There are already established tournaments in the Women’s game for smaller nations such as Rugby Europe Women’s Championship which has been running since 1988 and while tournaments like this provide the sides with annual games, they are rarely exposed to the better sides, only playing them once every four years at the Rugby World Cup and that’s if they’re lucky.
This would change with the introduction of the WXV as it would allow for more consistency and more games in a season when qualification is included. Having a relegation and promotion system will also act as an incentive for smaller nations.
You only have to look at the success of the UEFA Nations’s League in football to see how it has improved the competitiveness of small nations like Gibraltar who recorded their first ever win in the competition.
Furthermore, the amount of money that World Rugby will be investing will allow for massive commercial outreach and a great deal of exposure for the women’s game across the globe.
However, it must be remembered that England are currently the only nation whose players are professional and considering they are first in the world rankings there is clearly a correlation between salary and performance. Further investment will be needed into women’s rugby to ensure the game grows further and the skill level can improve across the board.
TV rights generated by the WXV will undoubtedly go some way to solving this issue but’s currently uncertain as to how the tournament will be available to watch.
The frequently poor performances of Italy in the last several years of the men’s Six Nations has prompted much talk of a new tournament akin to this one to ensure a more competitive playing field.
It’s a breath of fresh air to see a sport governing body like World Rugby making an attempt to shake up the sport but also to increase the participation and popularity of women’s rugby in the process and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the men’s game following in the footsteps of the women in the near future.