A “landmark” global women’s rugby union competition has been launched by the sport’s international governing body.
World Rugby is investing £6.4m in the WXV tournament, due to begin in 2023.
The competition will have three tiers, offering consistent international Test-match opportunities to 16 teams to help them prepare for the 2025 World Cup.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont hailed a “landmark moment” and said the plan would “accelerate the development of the women’s game”.
The announcement comes a week after the 2021 World Cup – for which three teams are yet to qualify because of postponements caused by the coronavirus pandemic – was pushed back to 2022.
The WXV competition will be played in a global window from September to October, except in World Cup years.
World Rugby says the aim of the tournament is to help teams prepare for a 2025 World Cup that will feature 16 teams – an expansion on the usual 12.
How will WXV work?
Regional competitions, like the Women’s Six Nations, must be completed by June each year and will determine qualification for WXV.
A competition featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA will also be established as a qualification route for the top tier of WXV.
WXV 1, the top tier, will involve six teams in two pools playing three matches against teams in the other pool at a standalone tournament in a location that may change yearly. Final placings will be determined by a points table.
The top three teams for the Women’s Six Nations, plus three of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States will qualify. There will be no promotion or relegation in the first cycle of WXV 1.
The second tier, WXV 2, will be played in the same format and will involve two teams from Europe, one of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States and one other team from Oceania, as well as one each from Asia and Africa.
The regional position of the team who finish sixth will be relegated to WXV 3, while the regional position of the team who finish top in the third tier will be promoted.
For example, if Italy were to finish sixth in WXV 2, one of the European positions in the second tier would be moved down to WXV 3 and whichever team qualified for that European position the following year would play in WXV 3.
WXV 3 will consist of two teams from Europe, one from Asia and the winner of an Africa v South America play-off playing in a round-robin format.
The fourth-placed team will then face the next best ranked team in the world rankings to retain their place in the competition.
World Rugby is also launching a Women in Rugby commercial programme to “further profile, engagement and sustainable growth”.