World Rugby have announced that there will be a global calendar for women’s rugby, with dedicated international release windows from 2026
Women’s rugby will have “global and regional player release periods for the first time with no domestic competition overlap, opening the way to a harmonious structure that promotes opportunity and growth ahead of an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup in 2025”.
The main points of the announcement are:
*First-ever dedicated international release windows (regional release window of seven weeks and global release window of eight weeks) from 2026.
*Clarity of release periods for club/league and cross-border competitions, to allow certainty of planning and investment.
*A commitment to more effectively manage player load and welfare in the fast-evolving women’s game, working with all stakeholders
*A framework to review the women’s global calendar and international competition structures on an ongoing basis to recognise that fast-evolving environment and opportunity.
The detail about what this will mean in practice did not form part of the announcement, but we understand that the “regional release window” in Europe will see the Six Nations move to three weeks later in the year, starting in the second week of April and running to mid May.
As this is a regional window the European Championship (and possibly the Trophy) will presumably be played at the same time.
Quite where this would leave Europe’s sevens tournaments is unclear, but as it stands they would may have to run in the same seven week period.
Other regions – especially in southern hemisphere – are likely to have different dates for their “windows”.
The eight-week global window would cover WXV, the World Cup, and a possible women’s Lions in 2027 which might be played at the same time as WXV, or more likely (and perhaps controversially) would see WXV cancelled for that year.
There is clearly a huge amount that still needs to be decided, but the idea of these regional and global windows, during which the priority would be international rugby, has been agreed.
The positives are many. It would avoid situations such as we saw two weeks ago when the first round of WXV took place at the same time as African and Asian Sevens Championships. The latter would have to take place in the “regional window”, which could not clash with the “global window”.
It would also encourage countries to play more international rugby in the 15 weeks set aside for that purpose, during which national tournaments should be on hold.
On the other hand, fitting – say – the Six Nations and the Rugby Europe’s fifteens and sevens tournaments all into one seven weekend period seems to be a trying to fit a quart into a pint pot. Given one aim is to “allow for better management of player load and overall welfare” having players play up to five back-to-back test weekends and then two weekends of international sevens would seem to be unreasonable. The days of players playing test and sevens rugby would appear to be numbered, in Europe at least. But Asia may also find fitting all of their international rugby into one slot in the calendar challenging. It might be all well and good for the leading nations in Europe and Asia with large player pools. For the smaller nations (and at least 90% of the world’s unions might be reasonably called “small”) tough decisions may need to be made.