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The global season for rugby union debate

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    The global season for rugby union debate


    Richard Knowler: NZ Rugby may go it alone if World Rugby cannot arrange 'global season'
    Last updated 12:06, June 30 2016

    OPINION: As they watch the All Blacks conquer their opponents in stadiums around the planet, NZ Rugby's administrators must wish they were as dominant when negotiating for the elusive "global season".

    If anything should be ranked at the top of World Rugby's wish list, it's the requirement to align all competitions under the umbrella of a global season.

    It seems most international coaches want it. The fans, if they are in their right minds, would welcome it. And you can bet the players, who want to preserve their bodies so they can keep honouring contracts and earning new ones, are right behind it.

    All Blacks coach Steve Hansen summed-up it up best when he said the current international schedule was "bordering on the ridiculous".
    Hansen wasn't wrong. Having guided the All Blacks to a 3-0 series win over Wales, he had to immediately surrender his players to their Super Rugby clubs where they will do all they can to help them qualify for the play-offs. That will be tough on their minds and bodies. Loose forward Liam Squire, who made his test debut during the final test in Dunedin, had to board a flight the following day so he could join his Highlanders team-mates in South Africa.

    "But that's just the state of the nation - that's our competition at the moment," a frustrated Hansen said. "Until we get the global season sorted, that's the sort of stuff we have to put up with."

    It gets even messier. When the Super Rugby season ends the All Blacks must immediately switch their focus to playing in the Rugby Championship and, later, the northern tour of Europe where they will play Ireland (in Chicago and Dublin), Italy and France.

    It's not only the southern hemisphere teams that are at a disadvantage.

    The Welsh players have barely had a break since the World Cup was staged in Britain in September and October; following a short rest they returned to their clubs, participated in the Six Nations, went back to their clubs and then toured New Zealand.

    They had every right to say they were nursing injuries, were low on enthusiasm and couldn't compete against the All Blacks. However, it would be disingenuous to use that as an excuse for their poor results in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin because when the New Zealanders head north after a long and arduous season they rarely get beaten on foreign soil.

    So what's the solution?

    Ideally World Rugby would prepare a calendar which ensured all countries, and just as importantly the clubs, aligned their programmes. This would require a window to be set aside for club competitions, and another for the tests. Creating a space to allow players to recuperate their bodies and minds would also be high on the agenda.

    Is this wishful thinking? Quite possibly, because the clubs in Europe are all-powerful.

    Unlike New Zealand, where players are centrally contracted and paid by NZ Rugby, the clubs in the northern hemisphere pay the wages. The Welsh Rugby Union has introduced a dual-contract system in an attempt to get their domestic clubs and the national union to work together.

    But in England and France the clubs appear more concerned about their own progress in the variety of competitions they play in. Given the big wages they shell out, they want a return on their investment. And would the home nations, France and Italy squeeze the Six Nations tournament, a wonderful revenue-earner for them through broadcasting rights and ticket sales, into a revamped calendar?

    NZ Rugby would also welcome a unified, global season for other reasons - the financial ones. They believe they are being ripped-off under the existing model. While NZ Rugby retained the revenue from the series against Wales, they get nothing when the All Blacks - who as the holders of the Webb Ellis Cup are guaranteed to draw major interest - perform in front of larger crowds in Europe.

    There could be light at the end of the tunnel if new World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont can make the global season dream a reality. The deadline is 2019. There are no test matches scheduled for 2020 and beyond.

    If nothing changes, NZ Rugby may hold true to their threat of negotiating individual matches. That could result in them raking in more money, and possibly, creating a test programme that guarantees player welfare is a priority.

    It wouldn't be a global season. But it would be a start.

    New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew presses on with global season change
    Last updated 12:24, July 1 2016

    Steve Tew wasn't about to make any promises he can't keep. Of course the New Zealand Rugby boss wants change on the global season - but closing the distance between hope and reality remains an on-going battle.

    The seemingly stagnant issue has reared its ugly head after a June test window that, locally at least, yet again exposed flaws of the fragmented calendar.

    While England bucked the trend with a series sweep in Australia, Wales were on their last legs by the third test in Dunedin, taking the shine off the All Blacks dominance. Ireland also battled fatigue and injuries in their 2-1 defeat to the unconvincing Springboks.

    After the 46-6 flogging in Dunedin, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and Welsh counterpart Warren Gatland both bemoaned a schedule that, at present, creates widespread disruption and forces international nations to square off at opposite ends of their respective seasons.

    That's all before you factor in the messy June break Super Rugby endures, one that will be exacerbated further next year with the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand causes problems for six, rather than four, weeks.

    The dual appointments of Bill Beaumont and Agustin Pichot to the kingmaker positions at World Rugby this year brought a fresh wave of optimism on this particular topic.

    Publically, Tew remains hopeful he can push for change at the next World Rugby committee meeting, scheduled for September in Argentina.

    But gaining genuine traction from European clubs continues to be a struggle.

    "I've been around long enough not to pick a date," Tew said when pressed on resolving the global season issue during his post board briefing. "We are in active discussions with our northern colleagues. I'd like to think we'd get through this piece of work at some stage this year but I couldn't guarantee it.

    "In reality the north can't do without the south at the international level and we can't do without the north, either."

    The 2019 World Cup remains the definitive deadline. Tew is on record that NZ Rugby will play hardball and seek individual matches if an agreement cannot be reached before then.

    "We really don't want to have to take the negotiation to a point where we call that card but we're reasonably confident if we can't get an agreement that's satisfactory - and there will be a compromise - then we'll certainly talk about playing amongst our southern colleagues at bit more and we might go and negotiate one or two test matches on the side and they'll be very different financial arrangements than the ones we have now.

    "And ultimately there'll be no window for a Lions series or a World Cup but I'm 99 per cent sure we won't get to that point."

    As revealed on Thursday, the Lions series is set to create havoc with next year's Super Rugby draw.

    The tour will bankroll NZ Rugby for the foreseeable future, and Tew is comfortable with the added disruption.

    "We all want to make sure the Lions tour survives in any new calendar we have. We've had this issue about fitting the Lions tour in when they were in Australia and South Africa last time.

    "We all believe that a Lions series is such a worthwhile part of our game that we make some adjustments. Clearly some people don't think they're perfect but we'll make them so we'll fit it in. I think next year the vast majority of our fans will be delighted we've done that. "

    Tew also ruled out Super Rugby continuing through the June test window without its international stars. And with France set to tour New Zealand for three tests in 2018, at least two more disruptive years await.

    - Stuff
    I am the million man.

    While NZ Rugby retained the revenue from the series against Wales, they get nothing when the All Blacks - who as the holders of the Webb Ellis Cup are guaranteed to draw major interest - perform in front of larger crowds in Europe.


      I love the threat to pull the Lions while they are charging £200+ for tickets to watch them next summer.

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