World Rugby chief’s reply to World 12s raises concern for competition’s future

New plans for a World 12s rugby competition will be considered by the sport’s organisers, but World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has raised doubts over how it will affect the current calendar.

World 12s was recently unveiled as rugby’s answer to The Hundred, a faster-paced, shorter-format version of the sport with plans to make its debut in August 2022.

World Rugby already issued a lukewarm response to the initiative, welcoming the “innovative thinking” to expand rugby’s remit while acknowledging it was yet to assess the viability of the product.

And now former Rugby Football Union (RFU) chairman Beaumont has thrown further doubt on the matter, telling Sky Sport’s Breakdown that the priority has to be player welfare.

“I’ve heard about this concept, and we will wait for the official approach,” Beaumont told former All Black Jeff Wilson.

“We’ve had an informal conversation with Ian Ritchie (World 12s chairman).

“Look, we need to see the full details of it, and then we need to discuss it and debate it, and look at its merits, the plus points and the minus points.

“The main thing we’ve got to be aware of is that it's already a congested calendar. To put another three weeks into a congested calendar…there's other tournaments, whether they are domestic or international, taking place at the time (August to September).

“We’ll keep an open mind to it but at the end of the day we have to look at the player welfare, and how many games players play.”

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Plans for a 12-a-side rugby competition could be hampered further by rumours World Rugby is considering altering its World Cup cycle to hold the tournament every two years, rather than every four.

World 12s has recruited some major names as ambassadors of the brand, including Rugby World Cup -winning coaches in ex- New Zealand boss Steve Hansen and former South Africa chief Jake White.

But the new competition has been slated for a slot towards the end of Europe’s summer, just when many teams in the northern hemisphere are set to begin their club seasons.

The August-September booking falls during Super Rugby’s off-season, but the southern hemisphere’s international tournament, the Rugby Championship, takes place at the same time.

Securing permissions from clubs and international unions therefore presents a major quandary in how to recruit 192 of rugby’s biggest talents for an eight-team contest lasting three weeks.

The short format could make World 12s a lucrative and attractive prospect for some players, though it may put many stars in conflict with their current employers.

“If it's going to be official then World Rugby have to approve it,” Beaumont added.

“It’s as simple as that.

“Any cross-border competition has to be approved. For instance, for the South African provinces to play in the Pro14 [rechristened the United Rugby Championship] that had to get permission, just like any cross-border competition.”

Exeter Chiefs director Rob Baxter was among the first prominent names to criticise the World 12s, suggesting players will be placed in the middle of a dispute between clubs and the unions.

Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, meanwhile, is a fan of the idea and suggested he’d be open to joining its ranks if called upon.

The new Premiership season gets underway on Friday, while the inaugural United Rugby Championship begins the following week.

Most coaches welcomed their squads back for pre-season camps in August, and the thought of seeing those future plans disrupted for an entirely new competition won’t appeal moving forward.

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