Fully contracted Black Ferns fifteens players on the cards

Fully contracted Black Ferns fifteen players is on the cards following the introduction of a new annual international tournament.

World Rugby is investing 12.4 million dollars in a three-tier tournament from 2023 which will help improve depth ahead of the expanded 16-team World Cup in 2025.

New Zealand would take part in a cross-regional tournament featuring Oceania and North American teams in June with the top three then joining the top three Eurpoean teams in a global event in September-October.

Cate Sexton, New Zealand Rugby's head of women's rugby development, says that sort of commitment would warrant contracting players.

"If you look at our calendar now and we've got two test windows plus our Farah Palmer Cup what does that mean for a player," Sexton said.

"Can they actually hold down a full-time job or even a part-time job if we're asking them to compete and be the best they can on the world stage so they're conversations we will have with the players association as we go forward, but a wonderful opportunity."

World Rugby has described the competition as a "game-changer" that will create a more competitive international landscape and grow the Women's Rugby World Cup from 12 to 16 teams.

WXV will start in 2023 and has initially been supported by a $12.4 million investment from the global governing body for the first two years. It will be hosted in a global September-October international competition window, except in a World Cup year.

"WXV will provide quality competitions and inspire the next generation of players and fans to get involved in the game," Katie Sadleir, World Rugby's General Manager for Women's Rugby, said.

"This has been a long two years of working with unions, regions and players to knock out how we can align the international calendar to lift the product of the (women's) 15s game.

"We are proud of what we have in Sevens, but we need something in 15s to connect regions to an international event. It will be a game-changer."

Entry into the competition will be via regional qualifiers. WXV 1, the top tier, will consist of six teams... the leading three sides from the European Six Nations and the top three from a qualifier featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA.

The qualifier would be played in June.

There will initially be no relegation from this tier, with the finals tournament played in a single location.

WXV 2 will comprise the next two teams from the Six Nations, the fourth-placed team from the cross-regional tournament featuring Oceania and North American teams, and another side each from Oceania, Asia and Africa.

It will also be in a single location and the bottom team will be relegated.

WXV 3 will be made up of four teams and include two more from Europe, one from Asia and the winners of an Africa versus South America playoff. The top side will be promoted to WXV 2.

Alan Gilpin, chief operating officer of World Rugby, says the aligned international calendar has presented a blueprint for the men's 15s game, though that discussion is admittedly much more complex.

"This is a real first for international rugby to create that aligned calendar. There have been some great discussions on the men's 15s in that regard and we are now back into those," Gilpin said.

The 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup, to be staged in New Zealand and featuring 12 teams, was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.