The Rugby World Cup is to expand from 20 to 24 teams, split into six first round groups each containing four sides, beginning in 2027 when Australia host.
The development is among several changes announced by the World Rugby Council including a new aligned international calendar featuring a 24-nation, two-division global league.
That will launch in 2026 with promotion and relegation from 2030.
It is a major reform of a sport that is struggling to provide meaningful opportunities to smaller unions, and comes at a time when the likes of Portugal and Fiji have shown the promise of Tier Two sides at the World Cup in France.
World Rugby say the changes have been made to allow those nations greater access to play elite opposition, but there has been criticism that the initial ‘closed shop’ nature of the Nations League will hinder this.
There will also be a first ever dedicated international release window in the women’s game from 2026, with a review of the global calendar and competition structures promised in the future.