LONDON (Reuters) - World Rugby has promised more tests between top and second-tier nations and announced changes to the timing of international windows in a new global calendar to run from 2020 to 2032.
The current June international window will move to the first three weeks of July to allow the Southern Hemisphere club championship, Super Rugby, to be completed prior to the matches.
There will also be a minimum of a 39 percent increase in matches between top and second-tier nations over that period, including a commitment from England and France to tour the Pacific Islands.
“Agreement on an optimised global calendar that provides certainty and sustainability over the decade beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 represents an historic milestone for the global game,” World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement from the organisation on Thursday.
The November international window in which Southern Hemisphere sides head north will start a week earlier to give players from the SANZAAR region a longer break in between seasons.
The Rugby World Cup will also begin a week earlier than has been the case from 2023, starting in the second week of September.
But it is the increase of exposure for second-tier nations that will provide the biggest potential shake-up to the game.
Southern Hemisphere teams have committed to hosting tier-two teams in July, while Georgia and Romania will also entertain Six Nations sides in that window.
Six Nations sides have also guaranteed they will host a minimum of six matches against second-tier teams in November.
“This agreement has player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans,” Beaumont said.
“This process has been complex and there was no silver bullet. Compromise has been achieved by all stakeholders in the spirit of collaboration...,” he added.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Gareth Jones