Fiji and Japan could be welcomed into an expanded Rugby Championship after World Rugby abandoned its plans to create a global Nations Championship.
Rugby's governing body needed unanimous approval from the 10 countries that make up the Six Nations and Rugby Championship - including Australia and New Zealand - to enter into exclusive negotiations.
But World Rugby identified the inability to reach consensus on key issues, such as the timing and format of promotion and relegation, as the reason for scrapping the project.
The Nations Championship was scheduled to begin in 2022 and would have taken place in traditional competitions like the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, as well as during existing Test windows, with the top two teams meeting in the final at the end of the year.
"While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions," World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said.
"This includes our continued commitment to competition and investment opportunities for emerging nations to increase the competitiveness of the international game with a view to possible Rugby World Cup expansion in 2027."
SANZAAR - representing Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina - expressed disappointment the proposed concept - who many tipped would redefine the international rugby calendar - has officially been taken off the table.
"The Nations Championship was a golden opportunity to grow the game internationall,y but is seemingly lost," SANZAAR chairman Brent Impey said.
But Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle disputed suggestions the scrapping of plans for a global competition would leave cash-strapped RA vulnerable because it would miss out on a potential windfall generated from a Nations Championship.
"Some of the reporting around the numbers of the so-called windfall from the World Rugby Nations Championship were numbers the media had printed and certainly were not numbers that were not confirmed or reported by anyone involved in the negotiations for the World Rugby Nations Championship," Castle said.
"We are working closely with our broadcasters, recognising we need to maximise those opportunities and ensure the competitions are returning a value that allows the game to continue to grow and we can continue to invest in the game and the initial conversations we have had with our broadcasters are positive."
Castle isn't ruling out Japan and Fiji joining southern hemisphere heavyweights Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina - the four semi-finalists from the 2015 World Cup - joining the Rugby Championship (TRC).
"Certainly what World Rugby Nations Championship has done with this project is allow us to think outside the box about different things, around the calendar, the timing, inclusion of different teams, all of those things," she said in a conference call on Thursday.
"It's allowed the SANZAAR nations to think about the expansion of TRC, how does that work from a team participation point of view, a commercial sustainability point of view, how does it work to grow the reach of TRC, and one of the options is the expansion of TRC but no final decision has been made."
© RAW 2019