Nations Championships row endangers November Tests in Europe

29 March 2019 - 14:20
By Liam Del Carme
SA Rugby President Mark Alexander.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images SA Rugby President Mark Alexander.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander insists Sanzaar countries’ November Tests in Europe cannot be part of Six Nations rugby bosses’ broadcast package should they opt out of the Nations Championships.

Battle lines have been drawn across the hemispheres over World Rugby’s proposed but now precariously-balanced Nations Championships‚ and relations have deteriorated to the point where Europe’s time honoured November internationals could be caught in the crossfire.

“They can’t include us in that‚” said Alexander‚ who warned the status quo in the divide between rugby’s haves and have-nots would be entrenched if the Nations Championships did not go ahead.

The significant power block in the north‚ consisting of the Six Nations combatants England‚ Wales‚ Ireland‚ Scotland‚ France and Italy are opposed to the concept that is broadly aimed at giving lower-tiered nations exposure to greater playing opportunity and funding.

The concept will ensure the Nations Championships remains relevant throughout the year with every Test match potentially carrying weighty consequences.

One of the major sticking points is that the Nations Championship has promotion-relegation as one of its pillars and England‚ through acting Rugby Football Union chief executive Nigel Melville‚ this week effectively delivered a mortal blow to the concept.

Melville said relegation for England‚ however remote‚ would be catastrophic and ruled out the possibility of putting his organisation at such risk.

Other Six Nations rugby bosses expressed similar reservations about the financial risk they would be exposed to.

What further ‘monies’ the waters is the fact that the Six Nations countries have other‚ more lucrative offers on the table.

Equity firm CVC have reportedly offered £500m for a 30 percent stake in the competition and that opens the possibility of future broadcast deals around the tournament potentially including the November internationals.

Should they opt to go their own way‚ the Six Nations teams will stand accused of acting in their own narrow interest.

“This proposal allows for Tier Two countries to develop and be part of the process‚ and the same applies to women’s rugby.

If that falls flat I don’t know what the next option would be‚” Alexander said.

“This competition can only work if all parties are in. My fear is people are looking at their own countries and not looking at the bigger picture.

“If that plan fails we will have to look at what is best for South African rugby.

“Lots of countries have had overtures from media rights bidders‚ as well as equity participation partners in leagues.

"There are other offers on the table and that is what is creating all this confusion.

“In Sanzaar we are looking at the bigger picture and looking at rugby as a whole and not just rugby in the south.

"If the Six Nations countries do individual deals that just blows the whole thing out of the water.”