World Rugby, Unions Confirm Revised Programme For Test Matches

Austin Okon-Akpan  
Updated May 10, 2021
A picture of rugby balls taken in Sydney, New Zealand on November 5, 2020. Saeed KHAN / AFP


A strong revised programme of men’s test matches is set to take place in July after all unions and World Rugby agreed a modified schedule within the existing window.

The revisions have been made to recognise an ongoing and complex global COVID-19 picture with the aim to limit the further impact.

The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa headlines a busy July programme that will see 25 of the top 30 ranked unions in action with several hosting or being hosted for the first time since the pandemic began, including world champions South Africa and Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts Japan.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cause disruption, the underpinning principle for the schedule was the fixtures agreed in San Francisco in 2017.

Where it was not possible or practical to honour that schedule, the hosting rights were reversed with key arrangements met.

Where this contingency has not been possible for COVID-19 reasons, World Rugby has facilitated discussions to confirm an alternative schedule for teams comprising a minimum of two matches for unions who sought replacement fixtures.

This means that Argentina, Japan, US, and Canada will now travel to the UK and Ireland, New Zealand will host tests against Fiji, and Georgia travel to South Africa.

The Samoa versus Tonga Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifier will also be hosted over two legs in New Zealand, creating a Pacific hub in the country across the July window. RWC 2023 qualifiers will also continue in Europe and get underway in Africa and South America.

Additionally, following the announcement of increased high-performance support funding for RWC 2021 qualified and qualifier tests, World Rugby continues to be in discussion with unions regarding confirmation of a women’s test programme that will boost preparation for next year’s tournament.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said, “This has taken a monumental effort from all concerned. While there is light at the end of the tunnel in respect to COVID-19 in many nations, the challenges continue to be present, dynamic and impactful and therefore, I would like to thank the unions, their respective governments, broadcast and commercial partners and players for their flexibility and full commitment to the process.

“Fans around the world can now look forward to an exciting bumper schedule of men’s test matches involving at least 25 teams, which will be a welcome sight for everyone. The road to Rugby World Cup 2023 also continues with key qualifiers for Samoa and Tonga and, of course, we are anticipating a fascinating British and Irish Lions series.”

World Rugby Vice-Chairman, Bernard Laporte, also said, “Fans from all over the world will rejoice with this window of international rugby.

“I am delighted that match-ups between northern and southern hemisphere teams can finally take place, this will act as a prelude to the exciting Rugby World Cup that we are all looking forward to in 2023.”

“World Rugby and unions will continue to monitor the dynamic COVID-19 situation closely and respond if necessary, while any revisions to the November international programme will be confirmed in due course. World Rugby will also maintain its high-performance support for emerging nations ahead of the July tests,” he added.

“Confirmation of the programme of July tests is the culmination of a considerable amount of detailed consultation and planning across the respective unions,” said World Rugby Chief Executive, Alan Gilpin.

“It is also a reflection of the strong collaboration across the game that characterises our drive to strengthen engagement with all stakeholders to deliver a more aligned, meaningful and effective men’s international calendar beyond Rugby World Cup 2023,” he added.

World Rugby continues to lead and facilitate focused and productive discussions with all stakeholders regarding the establishment of a globally integrated international calendar following Rugby World Cup 2023.

International Rugby Players and the respective national leagues are central contributors within the dedicated working groups.

Through these discussions, the sport is united in the mission to optimise the calendar for players, the international and club game.