Stubborn Six Nations bosses risk player strike

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:05 25/05/2014
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SHOT DOWN AGAIN: After Northern Hemisphere unions again denied the Southern Hemisphere's request to shift the international test window from June to July, could test strikes be their next move?

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International player strikes aren't imminent, but after another swift rejection of calendar changes from the northern hemisphere unions, such drastic action may be needed.

Last week in Dublin, New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew was flanked by his two Sanzar counterparts and International Players' Association boss Rob Nichol, all of whom threw their support behind a push to move the June tests to July to create a global season.

"We genuinely felt it was a good thing for the game," Nichol said. "There was a lot of thought and energy put into it."

Despite the English Rugby Union realising the positive impact such a move would have on player welfare, the three Six Nations representatives on the "working group" quickly knocked back the proposal.

Behind the scenes, the French have decided to move their club finals from July to June in 2016, forcing them to tour Argentina with a weakened team, but still won't agree to the overall shift.

"The Six Nations have considered it, and are saying they WON'T change," Nichol said. "We're of the understanding the English union are open to it but, unless you can convince them all, you're facing an uphill fight."

As self-interest and national preferences continue to hold the global game back - and force Super Rugby to take a bizarre month-long hiatus to cater for the June tests - the united southern hemisphere nations grow increasingly frustrated at their lack of influence.

"The other part of it, which none of us can ignore, is the Six Nations are looking at recent results and saying ‘unless there's anything in this for us, why would we change to help the southern hemisphere?'.

"That's one of the biggest barriers to try and get this through."

Rather than negotiating, it's fast reaching the point where Tew and Co feel as though they are being asked to beg.

"You get the feeling when we bring forward sensible proposals there's an element of that."

Striking is a last resort, but such a move before next year's World Cup might be the only effective way to confront historical problems. Northern unions would soon take notice if the All Blacks, the world's No 1-ranked team, suddenly decided they weren't going to tour in November.

"Strike is an emotional word. It's never something you want to consider. The players try to operate professionally, and with unity, but if we continue to come up with initiatives and requests that the players support and they continue to get knocked back, eventually frustrations will rise," Nichol said.

"We would like to think we don't have to do that, but maybe the message the Six Nations are sending is, unless you've got a lot of money or serious leverage over us, we're not changing."

While the international calendar is agreed upon until 2019, the Sanzar partners haven't given up hope of getting this scheme over the line by 2016. But it seems a major shift in outlook is required from the north before that can be achieved.

"If we put this back on the table, we'd like to think they'll read it, otherwise it's rather disrespectful to the international players."

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