Players union back global rugby season plan
Richie McCaw calls it a "game-changer", but the International Rugby Players' Association still has a lot to do to get its latest proposal for an integrated global season over the line.
The association today issued a press release urging the game's leaders to renew efforts to address player welfare and competition issues by developing integrated seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Under the IRPA proposal, the June test window would be moved to the last three weeks in July, beginning in 2016, when the competitions structures in both hemispheres will be on the table.
Under the plan, formulated after a recent conference in Australia, the northern hemisphere club competitions would start a month later than usual, "enabling more of their domestic competitions to be played after the Christmas break, potentially provide more breathing space for finals series and improving player availability for test matches".
In the south, the change would enable Super Rugby to be completed before the test tours by northern hemisphere nations, and also potentially extend the off-season break.
"If the game's leaders give this idea, or a variation of it, serious consideration, it could be a game-changer for professional rugby," World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.
"It would be fantastic to address this longstanding season structure debate once and for all. The players and the game would be so much better for it."
McCaw's sentiments were endorsed by Ireland and Lions playmaker Johnny Sexton, who said in the IRPA press release that he was confident a breakthrough could be made.
"We see this initiative as beneficial for the global game," he said.
"From a player perspective, we urge our leaders to get in a room together, take a positive attitude and see what can be done."
Association chairman Damian Hopley said the game was in a "unique" position to make the change.
"For the first time since rugby went professional, the major northern and southern hemisphere competition and commercial structures are on the table at the same time," he said.
"This is the ideal time to seriously consider change that will secure player welfare initiatives."
Under the players' proposal, the 2017 tour by the British and Irish Lions to New Zealand would be in a clear post-Super Rugby window, allowing full-strength midweek line-ups to be fielded.
IRPA says existing windows for World Cups, Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and November tests would not need to change.
It has urged representatives from rugby's major organisations to "come together and open their minds to the potential benefits of change".
The problem is that despite the best intentions from southern hemisphere nations, there has been a reluctance from northern nations to compromise their existing schedules.
IRPA says England's Premiership Rugby is thought to support of the proposal, while "preliminary discussions" have started with selected national unions.
IRPA's executive director, New Zealander Rob Nichol, said the players were "extremely motivated" to do what they could to get the key parties together.
"This is a rare opportunity for greater alignment of the season structures in the two hemispheres," he said.
"It is essential we use these discussions to achieve positive change for players, supporters and commercial partners.
"We focused on what we felt was feasible and what would make a significant improvement ... and moving the June test window to the last three weeks in July was what emerged.
"We will now focus on getting the key parties together in the coming weeks to progress discussions urgently."
The associatin's proposal makes a world of sense. It just remains to be seen if there is a willingness to get it over the line.