Some merit in World 12s plan, but does rugby really need another format?

Does rugby need another format, and is the touted World 12s concept the answer to game's convoluted law book some suggest?

The only certainty at this point is World 12s organisers, and its highly-influential backers including Sir Steve Hansen, former NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew and World Cup-winning coach Jake White, seem destined for a messy standoff with the global governing body if World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont's comments this week offer any gauge.

Let's start with the format. Rugby already embraces sevens, XVs and 10s - the latter offering something of a warning when attempting to launch new tournaments.

The concept of 10s was well established, particularly in Asian rugby circles, long before the 'Brisbane Global Rugby Tens' staged its maiden tournament involving 14 Super Rugby teams in 2017.

Beset from the outset by issues accessing the best talent - due to player welfare rest restrictions placed on Test stars during the offseason window - the Brisbane event struggled to command enough attention and only lasted two years.

The format itself - five forwards, five backs - worked well with more time and space to attack and fluid positional play.

Yet even the most ardent NZ Rugby fans are unlikely to recall the Chiefs winning the inaugural title, or the Blues claiming the crown with a second-string team the following year.

All that remains now is faded memorabilia.

Once a launchpad for emerging stars, giving rise to the great Christian Cullen among others, sevens has evolved into a respected format in its own right.

Where Hong Kong was the annual highlight sevens' inclusion at the 2016 Rio Olympics proved a game changer by entrenching its status and credibility on a global scale for men and women. It's now reached the point where some nations prioritise sevens over XVs.

With three accepted formats, the question must be asked: is there a need to shoehorn another in the mix?

World 12s is attempting to follow the Indian Premier League's lead in auctioning off 192 players for eight franchises to contest 30-minute games, with the first tournament touted for London next year.

Thirteen years on from the IPL's launch it's highly debatable whether it has attracted swathes of new fans to the sport. Sure, it commands a fanatical domestic following inevitable in India. Show me the legion of Chennai Super Kings fans dotted around the globe, though.

For that reason alone a healthy dose of scepticism about what, if anything, World 12s will bring to the global game is understandable.

Beaumont, in an interview with Sky Sport New Zealand this week, did his best to put the brakes on the concept which he said was at the "press release" phase.

"We will wait for the official approach," Beaumont cautioned. "We've had an informal conversation with [World 12s chairman] Ian Ritchie.

"Look, we need to see the full details of it and then we need to discuss it and debate it, and look at its merits, the plus points and the minus points.

"If it's going to be official then World Rugby have to approve it. It's as simple as that.

"Any cross-border competition has to be approved. For instance, for the South African provinces to play in the Pro 14 [United Rugby Championship] that had to get permission, just like any cross-border competition."

One immediate issue with the World 12s is the proposed timing. At this point organisers suggested staging the tournament through August and September which would clash with the Rugby Championship window.

"The main thing we've got to be aware of is that it's already a congested calendar," Beaumont said. "To put another three weeks into a congested calendar... there's other tournaments, whether they are domestic or international, taking place at the time. We'll keep an open mind to it but at the end of the day we have to look at the player welfare, and how many games players play."

World Rugby is a governing body steeped in conservativism, and Hansen was right this week when he highlighted its consistent basis towards the Six Nations agenda. One recent example is the ability to replace red carded players after 20 minutes - a law trial not approved by World Rugby but adopted anyway by SANZAAR for this year's Rugby Championship.

In this regard, the World 12s could help pave the way to tackle those inherent frustrations by introducing new laws; to simplify the breakdown, remove repeated reset scrums, encourage attacking play and generally challenge the status quo.

In an ideal world, all rugby nations would come together to overhaul the complex rule book but with so many competing agendas, there appears faint hope that will eventuate anytime soon. Even forging a global calendar that has the ability to benefit all levels of the game cannot be achieved.

The major issue World Rugby will confront is that money talks.

World 12s organisers hope to offer as much as $500 million over five years. Should they deliver on those figures elite players will want a slice of the pie that has already lured Hansen, Tew, White, Ritchie and Matt Giteau.

The other potential upside from a Southern Hemisphere perspective is a lucrative three-week stint in a World 12s event would be much more palatable than now commonplace six-month or season-long sabbaticals elsewhere.

If World Rugby holds firm and refuses to sanction the tournament, the game could be facing a rebel event that threatens to strip test nations of their best players. No one wants that.

Widespread consultation will take place before the event comes to a head but it's clear the concept is causing headaches in the established halls of power.

Asked for his view on the matter, All Blacks coach Ian Foster kept an open mind.

"It's like everything in the game whenever a change is proposed it often seems too radical and too farfetched to work," Foster said.

"There are a lot of reasons why it doesn't seem to fit - certainly from a timetable perspective from my view in terms of the Rugby Championship.

"But also, I think we'd be foolish to close our minds to it. If it's a radical new idea that could be good for our game then it would be good to get round a table and have a chat to see how it could work."

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that table.