World 12s: Where is it, when will it be played and what are the contentious issues around it?

A new international competition called World 12s has been launched with the aim of doing for rugby what the IPL and The Hundred have done for cricket.

Former RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is the World 12s chairman. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Former RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is the World 12s chairman. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

It will feature eight franchised teams playing 12-a-side matches which are 15 minutes each way in duration. Players will be sold at auction and the competition will be played in three week blocs.

The inaugural men’s World 12s is scheduled for London next year, with the first women’s tournament to take place in 2023.

But leading clubs and international unions have been caught on the hop by the announcement and may be reluctant to sanction the release of their best players at such a key time of the season.

World 12s will look to attract the best players in the game, such as Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa. Picture: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Who’s behind the new tournament and where’s the money coming from?

World 12s has got some rugby heavyweights involved. Ian Ritchie, the former chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, is chairman and ex-New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew and former Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies are non-executive directors. Rugby World Cup-winning coaches Steve Hansen and Jake White are also on board as ambassadors.

Organisers say the competition has the backing of “a UK-based financial consortium”, and will offer “unprecedented prize money”. They hope to generate £250 million over the next five years.

How does 12-a-side rugby work?

France scrum-half Antoine Dupont is likely to be on the radar of the World 12s organisers.

There are six forwards and six backs in each team and the extra space created by having three fewer players is designed to make the game more exciting with more opportunities for running rugby and tactical kicking. Games will be short, with halves lasting 15 minutes; conversions will be drop goals only; there will be only one scrum reset, followed by a free kick, and scrum infringements are to be penalised by a “differential penalty” – a penalty that cannot be kicked at goal.

What’s the format?

For the 2022 men’s tournament, eight franchised teams will play each other once in a round-robin format. There will be seven round-robin match days, where four matches will be played per day. The knockout stages will be split into semi-finals day, and a finals day to decide how teams are ranked from first to eighth. In the knockout stages, if matches are tied at full time, a golden point will decide the winner

Where will the tournament be held?

South Africa's World Cup-winning coach Jake White, centre, has given his support to World 12s. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

It is anticipated that England will be the first host nation of the men’s World 12s in 2022. The plan is then to move the tournament to different global locations each year.

When will it be played and will clubs agree?

World 12s organisers want the tournament to be played over three weeks in late August and early September and claim it will “complement the existing global calendar”. However, finding dates agreeable to all is likely to be its toughest test. The slot eyed for World 12s coincides with pre-season for most clubs in the northern hemisphere and many international players will be recovering from summer tours at that time. Clubs are likely to balk at the idea of releasing key personnel ahead of the new season kicking off. But, as ever, money talks. “Discussions continue with key stakeholders,” say the organisers.

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Who’ll be playing in World 12s?

This is where it gets interesting. The aim of the organisers is to have the world’s best players being sold at an auction to the eight franchised teams. It’s a direct copy of the IPL format which has proved so successful in cricket. Each team will have a playing squad of 24 players, giving a total of 192. The caveats (in the name of “development”) are that each franchise will be required to select at least two players from Tier Two nations as well as one international under-20s player. Whether players will be prepared to be auctioned off like livestock remains to be seen. Again, you suspect money could smooth the path

Which teams are involved?

Organisers say the eight franchised teams will be determined by geographical location, so expect a slew of jazzy new names designed to attract a younger audience. They also say there will be “a keen focus to develop homegrown players as well as improve participation from emerging nations”.

All well and good but what about player welfare?

Apart from auctioning them off like prize cattle, organisers are also expecting the world’s best to fit another tournament into their crowded schedule. So as well as international commitments and taking part in the United Rugby Championship / the Gallagher Premiership / the French Top 14 / Super Rugby (delete where applicable), the players will be asked to fly across the world to participate in a three-week World 12s event. Organisers say the 30-minutes matches will ensure the players are not overloaded and they also claim to be committed to being “the best researched rugby tournament in the world” and “will offer an excellent platform for the sport to investigate issues that truly matter for the welfare of the players”.

What are the unions saying about it?

Precious little so far. There is a sense they have been caught on the hop by the World 12s announcement and have not been furnished with much information. However, there are sure to be concerns about a new tournament being bolted on to the start of such a huge season which will culminate in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Is World Rugby on board?

Not so far. The game’s governing body issued a rather curt statement in which they were quick to flag up the thorny issues of player welfare and the global calendar.

“We are aware of the proposed new World 12s competition,” a World Rugby spokesperson said. “While we welcome innovative thinking with the potential to advance the reach, attractiveness and growth of the sport, comprehensive consultation with the organisers is required to understand the viability of the concept, particularly in the context of ongoing global calendar discussions and the priority area of player welfare.”

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