After threats of boycotts, uproar over hyper commerciality and players bemoaning the lack of regard for their welfare, there is an eerie silence after the thunderous last few days of rugby punch and counter-punch from the various corridors of power.
When a report suggested last Wednesday the structure for a World League, the rugby world rallied against the suggested plans for the new 12-nation, cross-hemisphere, closed-shop annual tournament. The game's top players labelled it "out of touch", the Pacific Islanders thought they were shut out and contemplated boycotting this year's Rugby World Cup, while at club level a senior figure described the proposals as a "fairyland" when talking to ESPN.
Since then, Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby's chairman, has called for calm and emphasised how "no decisions have been made" over the structure of the new tournament while inviting a select group of rugby's stakeholders to an emergency meeting in Dublin at the end of the month. And all the while, this year's captivating Six Nations tournament rockets on.
Let's head back to Wednesday when the New Zealand Herald published its report on the new-look World League. It said the new tournament would have 12 pre-selected nations, with no promotion and relegation from the outset and it would incorporate the Six Nations and the newly-expanded Rugby Championship -- Japan and the USA were reportedly joining South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. The plan was for it to be introduced in 2020.
The players' union -- International Rugby Players (IRP) -- released a lengthy statement where the sport's leading players voiced their concern at the proposed tournament. Jonathan Sexton, the Ireland fly-half, called it "out of touch" while Kieran Read, the All Blacks captain, said rugby "must balance the commercial needs of the game with the player welfare needs". In other words, the already exhausted players were wary of further matches and warned those in the suits to consider their needs when weighing up the potential eight-figure annual income the tournament would generate.
World Rugby was quick to emphasise that no decision had been made over the long-term plans for the World League but cited "consumer research" as confirming "a structured annual competition would make fans and new audiences more likely to watch, attend and engage with international rugby, exposing the sport to new fans worldwide". The Pacific Islands -- the lifeblood of the international game -- reacted with understandable outcry at the proposed plans as without a promotion-relegation system at the heart of the new project, they were to be shut out. Leading figures including the likes of Manu Tuilagi, as part of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW), said they would consider boycotting the World Cup in protest.
When you have a vice-chairman like Agustin Pichot, the last thing he would want would be a closed-shop. He is all for global expansion and would like nothing more than a World Cup with 10 realistic challengers. It is understood the model including the U.S. as the 12th team was one suggestion, while other iterations had Fiji included and promotion-relegation at its core. But establishing an ideal system is difficult to say the least. "My position and my proposal has always been the same since day one. (Two divisions of) 12+12 with promotion/relegation, with enough rest periods for the players," Pichot tweeted.
"If we can't make this happen it won't be because of the people who wanted the growth of the game worldwide, and working with clubs and leagues to make it work for all of us."
The Six Nations -- for so long unwilling to change into a meritocratic promotion-relegation system -- would offer a stumbling block for such a system but for the World League to work and to be sustainable, there will need to be compromise at its heart.
The commercial side of the game will offer another stumbling block for any World League plans if it was to have collectively-sold television rights. Reports in the Telegraph suggest the Six Nations is looking into plans to pool broadcast rights, which would effectively shut out their southern hemisphere rivals.
The clubs in England having seen the proposed plans -- they have an agreement with the Rugby Football Union over player release -- were also surprised and critical of the proposed outline with one senior figure describing the plans as having "no chance of working whatsoever", smacking of "desperation" and, unless they managed to get club approval, "dead in the water". On the RFU's side, it responded to the proposed format with unease, with a source expressing concerns over the lack of confirmation over the status of the British & Irish Lions, the long-haul travel and, ultimately, player welfare.
Just about everybody weighed in. New Zealand Rugby and the Rugby Australia separated itself from the plans out of solidarity with the Pacific Islanders while Sir Graham Henry said the new tournament would "kill the Rugby World Cup".
All the while World Rugby kept its counsel, releasing one statement on Wednesday and then another on Sunday through Beaumont. But privately, a source told ESPN it was committed to introducing a meritocratic system, was open to the idea of fallow weeks to break up the relentless schedule, would potentially base original qualification around the rankings and emphasised how the Pacific Islands were very much part of the plan.
After all the uproar, there was calm with international rugby continuing over the weekend with the U.S. falling to a defeat at home against Uruguay. Sources stateside say inclusion in the 12-team tournament from 2020 would do little in the short and long-term for U.S. rugby and fast-forwarding their inclusion would not necessarily be beneficial. While they would want to be included at the top table in the future, they still need to find a sustainable model for rugby while they continue to grow the ambitious and impressive domestic scene in Major League Rugby. For this new-look international tournament to work, each nation will need to develop their own sub-Test level competition and the U.S. is on the right path.
And so after all the fireworks, we wait to see what comes out of the World Rugby meeting at the end of the month. Fiji and Japan have been invited to attend alongside the Six Nations and the four Rugby Championship countries. America will likely have a voice too in the IRP, who will also be represented there. What the situation needs now is calm, with an openness to compromise and a lack of self-interest. Rugby is right to be looking at other alternatives and ways to engage a growing audience, but it has to be a global project rather than a closed-shop. Amid the many dangers facing the sport, it cannot afford to make the same mistakes it did at the turn of professionalism. This whole process heading forward needs to be completely transparent and accountable. At the fulcrum of it, any new system needs to have rugby's best interests at heart.
The original plans were wide of the mark, but the sport now has an opportunity to get this right.