Calls for global rugby calendar intensify after 'ridiculous' season
Twelve months of continuous rugby has taken its toll on some northern hemisphere teams.
SYDNEY - As the northern hemisphere's test rugby warriors embarked on long haul flights back home for their first proper break in a year on Monday, coaches lined up to decry the burden the current international calendar puts on players.
England, Wales and Ireland players have been touring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at the end of almost 12 months of continuous rugby going back to the start of training camps for their Rugby World Cup campaigns.
While such a gruelling schedule made England's sweep of Australia all the more impressive, their coach Eddie Jones said the demands on players were unacceptable and he had encouraged RFU chief Ian Ritchie to take up the matter with World Rugby.
"These players should be sitting on a beach in Barbados now," the Australian said after England wrapped up their 3-0 series triumph with a 44-40 victory over the Wallabies on Saturday.
"I don't think it's right. I've spoken to Ian Ritchie about it and we are in agreement. Ian is going to try to push that forward to World Rugby."
The negotiations over a global season will be top of Bill Beaumont's in-tray when he takes over as the new chairperson of global governing body World Rugby on Friday.
"I will address the challenge of the global calendar immediately on taking office," Beaumont said in his election manifesto for the post.
"World Rugby cannot be silent on this matter. This complex and important issue must have a solution designed to benefit the entire rugby community."
The former England captain will have his work cut out to put something in place for the season following 2019 World Cup, however, given the array of conflicting interests that have stymied previous efforts to bring order to the calendar.
Although the interests of the players are the driving force behind calls for change, there is no doubt also that it has a deleterious impact on the quality of the product the game presents at the elite level.
While players in the southern hemisphere had a lengthy period off after the World Cup, many Wales players went straight back to club rugby, played the Six Nations and a warm-up match against England before facing New Zealand in three tests.
"Talking to Steve Hansen, a lot of those All Blacks had four months off after the World Cup to rest and recuperate," Wales coach Warren Gatland said after his side went down 46-6 in Dunedin on Saturday to lose the series 3-0.
"Ours have three to four weeks off - national dual contracted players get six to eight weeks."
All Blacks coach Hansen may benefit from his union's central contracting system, which allows them to manage the game time of their players, but he still described the current situation as "ridiculous".
"It's a great advertisement, I think, for having a global season," he said after the world champions overcame an obdurate Welsh side in the final quarter of the opening test of the June series at Eden Park.
"It's our first game of the year since the World Cup. How many have they played since then? Six. They've also played a lot of club rugby and haven't had a breather.
"It's a great advertisement for a global season and chance to look after our players. There are a lot of boys who have not had the opportunity to have a breather. I am thinking that Wales will be looking forward to having a decent pre-season."
Ireland have also benefited from managing the game time of their top players, which gave coach Joe Schmidt confidence they would do their country proud in South Africa despite the absence of a string of first choice players.
They duly did, taking their series against to the Springboks down to the wire before succumbing 2-1, but even Schmidt had to admit a 17-test, 52-week season was too long.
"It's a World Cup year - any year post-World Cup, I agree, that season is long," he said on arriving in South Africa.
"By the time you take the pre-season, the four warm-up test matches, and as soon as you're playing matches at a high level, they're more attritional mentally as well as physically because you've got to really extend yourself because you know your opponent is at a very high level.
"From that perspective, it is tough."
Australia coach Michael Cheika typically took matters into his own hands by allowing key Europe-based players like Matt Giteau and Will Genia to skip the June series.
"We gave those guys a break, you can't play rugby for 12 months of the year..." he said.