Just when you think there’s nothing that the rugby authorities can do any more that would truly surprise you, along comes the revelation that there has been an agreement in principle between the major leagues north and south of the Equator to begin a world club championship in 2028.

When the news broke yesterday, it was greeted in many quarters as something brand new and revolutionary, but hang on, this idea has been around for years, and cynic that I am, I can’t help thinking this is merely old mutton getting dressed as new lamb. Back in July, 2022, for instance, The Daily Telegraph reported: “The blueprint for a new ‘Club World Cup’ is understood to have been agreed with a tournament involving the top 16 sides from the northern and southern hemispheres scheduled to start in 2025.”

Mark McCafferty, the former chief executive of Premiership Rugby, has been pushing the idea for years and it is no secret that European Professional Club Rugby, organisers of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, have been trying to get the world club championships going for several years now. 

The venture capital company CVC has also been supporting the idea as they need to get some return for the millions they have invested, and World Rugby is committed to growing the game globally. Now the proponents of a world club championship appear to have succeeded and 2028 will see it begin. 

The idea is that in June of that year, the inaugural tournament will take place somewhere in the northern hemisphere. All five leagues are in support of the concept, with the big breakthrough, as I understand it, being the decision of the French rugby union to get involved.

It was reported Down Under yesterday that while an agreement has yet to be finalised, the format is for a four-week knockout tournament with eight European clubs, six sides from Super Rugby and two teams from Japan. 

The competition will run every four years, reported some well-informed scribes in New Zealand and Australia, and here’s the problem for Scotland’s two professional clubs, Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors – qualification for the championship will be on merit only. There will be no guarantee of participation for any club which will undoubtedly mean some nations won’t be represented – Scotland, Wales, Italy and Argentina could completely miss out, I would fear.

If it was starting this June, Warrriors might have a slight chance of being involved given they are in second place in the United Rugby Championship. But if Edinburgh perform a miracle and win the Challenge Cup, would that have guaranteed them a place in the tournament? I think not, because winning the second division trophy doesn’t put you in the top eight by right.

Now you might say that rugby league has a world club championship, and has done for 48 years, but the Rugby League World Club Challenge is a one-off match between the champions of the Super League and Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), with Wigan Warriors the current title holders as well as being the most successful team in the championship’s history. 

Interestingly, the Challenge became a series for three years from 2015, with the top three teams from each of the Super League and NRL battling it out, but reverted to a single match in 2018 largely because the Australian clubs were unwilling to commit to travel and risk player injuries that could affect their performance in the NRL.

Football also has a world club championship, with Manchester City as current champions. In recent years the FIFA-organised event has become a real money spinner, and that is my supposition about rugby union getting its world club championship – it’s all about money, about the big clubs getting bigger and the venture capitalists and broadcasters dictating the future of our sport. You might say they already do, and proof of that came when it was announced that the Six Nations would not become one of the ‘crown jewels’ of British broadcasting and be free-to-air. The Tory Government listened to their friends and donors and there must now be real doubt as to whether BBC and ITV will be able to show matches live when the current deal runs out at the end of next year.

Underlining his reputation as a straight talker, SRU chairman John McGuigan recently admitted that the rugby unions face a real dilemma over the future of the broadcasting of the sport.

I’ll remind you of what he said: “Every government in terms of the Six Nations – I can certainly think of two or three – would have that very high on their agenda about free access. We’d be alongside that, so it would be a central part of the discussion about, yes you want the best commercial deal, but you also want access, so how do you create the right balance?”

I don’t know, but here’s my long-term bet: the 2028 Club World Cup will only be shown live behind a paywall. How will that grow the game?