With the news that Joe Hawkins had signed for Exeter Chiefs for next season, I found myself lamenting the loss of another talented player from Test rugby for the foreseeable future—and let’s be honest, Wales need him right now—as he has not earned enough caps to allow him to be eligible to play for the national team while playing or a club outside Wales. As a result, one of the biggest silver linings to a difficult last year for Wales is now highly unlikely to feature at the Rugby World Cup later this year. Meanwhile, England may have eligibility questions of their own as Jack Willis (a regular starter for England so far under Steve Borthwick) has signed for Toulouse after having initially moved there on a short-term contract following the collapse of Wasps.
You can understand both sides of the argument. Players’ careers are short and dangerous, so they need to make whatever money they can, which can’t be provided in Wales, where the WRU are failing to support the regions, or in England, where almost 100 Premiership players found themselves cut after last season due to reductions in the salary cap, while the Premiership is now 2 clubs down following the loss of Worcester and Wasps. Meanwhile from the union’s point of view, they want players playing at home to guarantee access to players whenever the national team wants them, rather than just during World Rugby’s Test windows.
Now I’m not going to consider myself even close to an expert, but I can’t help feel that both situations would be helped by something that has been suggested for a long time now: a global rugby calendar. There have been so many suggestions over the years but none have ever got the backing needed to be trialled. But as rugby finds itself coming to a vital point in its existence, where some of the established countries are struggling financially but the game also grows in other lower-tier countries, I have a suggestion for how the global season could look for professional rugby.
So my idea is loosely based on the format of New Zealand Rugby, where players are contracted to a Super Rugby franchise, but also a club in the NPC (National Provincial Championship, formerly the Mitre 10 Cup/ITM Cup). The NPC runs from July/August through to October, while Super Rugby runs from February to June. As a result, Test windows generally coincide with the NPC, but as each club will usually only have a couple of internationals contracted, they can work around this.
So my idea would be to split the season into 3 parts:
- A “domestic” window, for competitions like the NPC, Premiership, MLR. I would also include the URC in this, though it may be that unions would prefer to replace this with individual domestic competitions. Due to this directly following the “Test” window (more on that in a moment), internationals would likely miss the opening month or so of the competition and find their minutes limited in order to avoid burnout.
- This would be followed by a “continental” window, for competitions like Super Rugby, the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. Each continent would have their own competitions, though the Americas could be considered as 1 continent rather than 2. While the current Super Rugby format probably wouldn’t need much change, European competition would need a complete rebuild, to likely create a number of levels of a round-robin tournament with semis and a final in the final weeks of the season. I may get some grief for this, but I would have the South African franchises heading an African continental tournament, as I feel that Europe needs to focus on the growth of emerging nations like Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Romania, while it could also allow for teams from Italy’s domestic competition should the URC remain, while similarly African rugby needs a boost.
- Finally a “Test” window, which is itself in 2 parts:
- The first half of the window would be a series of matches similar to the current Summer/Autumn Tests. To allow a fair balance, fixtures played one season will be reversed in the next (eg England v Fiji in Year 1 leads to Fiji v England in Year 2). Personally, I would argue a balance between other Tier 1 opponents and Tier 2/3 opponents to continue growth of the game
- The second half of the window would be the usual regional Test Tournament, or if there isn’t one, then one would be created. Obvious examples here would be the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship. Every 4 years, these regional tournaments would be replaced by the World Cup
- Every 4 years (2 after the World Cup), the 2 halves would be swapped so that the regional tournaments happen first, then the British & Irish Lions tour would take place alongside the other Test matches to complete the season.
Do I think it’s perfect? Definitely not, especially as I’m sure that there would be questions over the financial implicaions. But I think that it would allow players greater freedom of movement by having all Test rugby played at the same time, while this would also see a gradual increase in intensity as the season goes on. Similarly with no overlap (the only potential overlap being between the Test and Domestic windows, which would allow Academy and fringe players a chance to gain experience and state their case to have a larger role as the season goes on.
What do you think of my suggestion for a global season? Do you have any recommendations of your own?
Thanks for reading. Until next time!.
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