International season remains a Rubik's cube

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Brett Gosper
Getty Images
TOP MAN: IRB chief executive Brett Gosper.

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Brett Gosper, like the good advertising man he once was, understands how to paint an evocative image. So when the subject turns to the murky territory of rugby's international season, the IRB boss is at his loquacious best.

At a time when there is much talk, but little action of consequence, around rugby's increasingly ill-fitting international windows in June and November, it's appropriate to seek the view of Gosper, the Australian who has been the International Rugby Board's chief executive for almost two years.

The 54-year-old was in Auckland to oversee the flagship world under-20 championships and the start of the June tests.

As it stands now the June test window splits Super Rugby four-fifths of the way through its season - a scenario New Zealand players boss Rob Nichol says is unsustainable and severely jeopardises the global game.

November, though not so intrusive, also has its issues and there's general agreement that the current setup is a long way from desirable. Cutting to the chase, we asked how the IRB could broker a solution.

Gosper didn't quite throw both hands up in the air but he might have.

"It's a good question because we don't have the teeth to impose a solution," the IRB chief says.

"We represent the national unions and our role is to provide leadership, to get people in the room, to understand competing points of view and to manage the reconciliation of those views.

"I wish we could just go in and impose something . . . I wish we had the teeth to do that. But it's not the way the IRB works. I don't want to use the term herding cats but it's a little bit like that.

"Hopefully, the cats are looking for a solution and they do seem to be."

Gosper is not without hope.

The IRB has a working group looking at the global calendar and national CEOs are now directly involved. But the disparate and competing interests involved make it what he terms "a Rubik's cube of immense proportions" where expectations have to be managed.

On the southern hemisphere's "quick-fix" solution of simply moving the June window to July and shifting the northern season forward a month, Gosper allows himself a wry smile.

"I don't think [the northern unions] see what the benefits would be for them. I've heard the RFU are reasonably open to it, I'm not sure the French are as positive and I'm not sure the Welsh are. You have different views from different unions but you've almost got to get unanimity on these things to move forward.

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"Personally, I'd have liked to have seen some progress in that area but we're going to take a more holistic view of the season and try to get an outcome that's in everyone's interests."

For the record, nothing is likely to change until 2019 when current arrangements for the international window come to an end.

- Sunday Star Times

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