(Reuters) - World Rugby has launched a new annual three-tier global women’s tournament that has been described as a "game-changer" that will create a more competitive international landscape and grow the Women’s Rugby World Cup from 12 to 16 teams.
WXV will start in 2023 and has initially been supported by a 6.4-million pound investment from the global governing body for the first two years. It will be hosted in a global September-October international competition window, except in a World Cup year.
"WXV will provide quality competitions and inspire the next generation of players and fans to get involved in the game," Katie Sadleir, World Rugby's General Manager for Women's Rugby, told journalists on Tuesday.
"This has been a long two years of working with unions, regions and players to knock out how we can align the international calendar to lift the product of the (women's) 15s game.
"We are proud of what we have in Sevens, but we need something in 15s to connect regions to an international event. It will be a game-changer."
Entry into the competition will be via regional qualifiers. WXV 1, the top tier, will consist of six teams – the leading three sides from the European Six Nations and the top three from a qualifier featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA.
There will initially be no relegation from this tier, with the finals tournament played in a single location.
WXV 2 will comprise the next two teams from the Six Nations, the fourth-placed team from the cross-regional tournament featuring Oceania and North American teams, and another side each from Oceania, Asia and Africa.
It will also be in a single location and the bottom team will be relegated.
WXV 3 will be made up of four teams and include two more from Europe, one from Asia and the winners of an Africa versus South America playoff. The top side will be promoted to WXV 2.
Alan Gilpin, chief operating officer of World Rugby, says the aligned international calendar has presented a blueprint for the men's 15s game, though that discussion is admittedly much more complex.
"This is a real first for international rugby to create that aligned calendar. There have been some great discussions on the men’s 15s in that regard and we are now back into those," Gilpin said.
The 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup, to be staged in New Zealand and featuring 12 teams, was postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)