Namibia and other second tier rugby nations are bound to benefit a lot from a new international rugby competition that will start in 2026, which was announced by World Rugby on Tuesday.
The new bi-annual international competition will comprise a top division of 12 nations, as well as a second division of 12 nations which will run over two years, split into three window periods.
The first will be in the July international window period, the second in the November window, and the third in the following July period, which could result in six to eight extra international matches per year for Namibia.
Namibia Rugby Union vice president Johan Diergaardt said it will benefit Namibia and other second tier nations a lot.
“Our president Petri Theron and CEO John Heynes were present at the meeting and I think it’s a very welcome announcement. It was already planned for 2020, but there were delays due to existing contracts amongst others. It will help our rugby a lot in terms of regular test matches against Tier 2 nations, and a fixed programme, while our competitiveness will improve,” he said.
World Rugby also announced that it will expand the Rugby World Cup from the current 20 teams to 24 – a move welcomed by Diergaardt.
“It will expose more teams and give the players more opportunities, in front of a wider global audience. I know some people don’t like the idea of Tier 1 nations playing Tier 2 nations, what with some big scores at the world cup, but if you look at the Cricket World Cup, there are only 10 teams, but there are still some big scores. It opens new doors and presents opportunities that our players will otherwise not get,” he said.
Diergaardt, however, warned that Namibia will have to step up to become more competitive.
“There could even be two African countries at the next world cup now, besides South Africa, but Namibia will have to step up and make better use of its opportunities. We will receive financial support from World Rugby, but we will have to generate more to make it work,” he said.
It is not yet clear how the qualifying system for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia will work, but currently Africa has one continental ticket through the Africa Cup, with the runner-up joining an inter-continental repechage group where only the winning nation qualified.
“It’s not known yet how the qualifying will work, but it will probably come down to an intercontinental repechage tournament where the qualifying nations could be increased. But the chance to qualify for the world cup will now be bigger, and it will give other African countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe a better chance to qualify,” Diergaardt said.
Regarding the new two-tier bi-annual international competition, there won’t be promotion/relegation matches yet, but they are planning that it starts in 2030, when the top Tier 2 nation will play out against the bottom Tier 1 nation.
The top 12 nations in the world currently are South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, France, England, Scotland, Argentina, Wales, Australia, Fiji, Italy and Japan.
The next 12 nations are Portugal, Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, USA, Spain, Romania, Namibia, Chile, Canada and Hong Kong.
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