Deadline looms for vote on new World Rugby competition
The beginning of Ireland's World Cup training camp this week has no doubt demanded the attention of Irish Rugby's key men, but as September's trip to Japan looms ever closer, D-Day approaches for World Rugby's controversial Nations Championship plan.
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The sport's governing body has confirmed that the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides - ten in all - must deliver an answer by Friday on what would likely be considered the most seismic change to the game since professionalism was introduced in 1995.
Proposed to begin as early as 2022, the radical format would see the champions of the Six Nations facing off with the winner of an expanded, six-team Rugby Championship that would now include Japan and Fiji as part of a wider structure involving each competition introducing a second tier complete with promotion and relegation.
The addition of the two new teams to the southern hemisphere's premier competition would lessen fears over the introduction of relegation there, but it remains a huge sticking point for the Six Nations sides, of whom at least Ireland, Scotland and Italy were understood to be opposed when the plans were first leaked back in the spring.
Infront Sports and Media, World Rugby's proposed commercial partner for the venture, is believed to have intimated that the league would generate £5bn over 12 years, leaving even those who did suffer the disaster of relegation on a more sound financial footing.
Another issue remains how the new fixture list would lessen the opportunities for the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to tour the northern hemisphere in the usual November international window.
The new English Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney supports the structure but has conceded there are still outstanding issues to be negotiated.
"It's coming to the sharp end of that," he said of the plans.
"It is well known publicly that June is a key month for where that is going.
"We support the concept. We think it makes sense. It's good for the global growth of the game. From a financial point of view, the numbers are good to enable us to reinvest back into the game
"It is such a complex proposal. There are a number of issues around governance, around competition structure, around player welfare that we need to see a bit more detail on before we sign on the dotted line.
"I think that is the same with some of the other nations, so we are right in the middle of that process now."
A final proposal would ultimately face a vote in front of World Rugby council but not without prior support of all the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides.
Meanwhile, Mathieu Bastareaud has been left out of a 31-man France squad to prepare for the World Cup.
The powerful Toulon centre, who has captained Les Bleus three times during his 54-cap career, missed out in a group announced by France head coach Jacques Brunel.
Bastareaud, 30, will move to Major League Rugby in America later this year, joining Rugby United New York.
Toulouse centre Sofiane Guitoune has prospered from Bastareaud's absence, while Brunel has included uncapped players in Guitoune's club colleague Peato Mauvaka and Toulon prop Emerick Setiano.
Bastareaud apart, other notable absentees include wing Teddy Thomas, scrum-half Morgan Parra and prop Uini Atonio.
France are in the same World Cup pool as England, Argentina, the United States and Tonga. Their opening game is against Argentina in Tokyo on September 21.
Squad: G Alldritt (La Rochelle), D Bamba (Brive), Y Camara (Montpellier), C Chat (Racing 92), G Doumayrou (La Rochelle), A Dupont (Toulouse), G Fickou (Stade Francais), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), P Gabrillagues (Stade Francais), G Guirado (Toulon), S Guitoune (Toulouse), Y Huget (Toulouse), A Uturria (Clermont Auvergne), F Lambey (Lyon), W Lauret (Racing 92), B Le Roux (Racing 92), C Lopez (Clermont Auvergne), M Machenaud (Racing 92), P Mauvaka (Toulouse), M Medard (Toulouse), R Ntamack (Toulouse), D Penaud (Clermont Auvergne), L Picamoles (Montpellier), J Poirot (Bordeax-Begles), D Priso (La Rochelle), A Raka (Clermont Auvergne), T Ramos (Toulouse), B Serin (Bordeaux-Begles), E Setiano (Toulon), R Slimani (Clermont Auvergne), S Vahaamahina (Clermont Auvergne).
Reserves: A Belleau (Toulon), F Cros (Toulouse), E Falgoux (Clermont Auvergne), C Ollivon (Toulon), V Rattez (La Rochelle), P Willemse (Montpellier).
• Former Ulster full-back Peter Nelson has been handed his first call-up to the Canada squad for the Pacific Cup against the USA, Fiji and Tonga next month.