PROPOSALS for an integrated international rugby season that would run from October to June today received the thumbs-up from a recent Scotland cap.
The International Rugby Board is shortly expected to announce the creation of a global-season working group.
The group, which would include a representative from Scotland and other leading nations as well as the International Players’ Association, are to be charged with finding a way to ensure tours do not continue to kick off almost as soon as the domestic season ends.
Player welfare is at the heart of the moves, with the risk of burn-out high on the agenda.
Allan Jacobsen, capped 65 times over a ten-year period from 2002-12 and who retired from the professional game at the end of last season, today welcomed any move that would ease pressures on leading players.
“It was always tough going on tour pretty much at the end of a long season. Sometimes these tours would last for over a month and you’d already been playing week in, week out,” he said. “Some countries are big enough to be able to offer three or four alternatives for a position, but not every team is so equipped. So a change that allows players to rest before going on tour has got to be a good thing in my view.”
Any schedule change would see Northern Hemisphere countries tour in July and play Tests in the final three weeks of that month. Players would return and have a break before joining up with pro colleagues starting pre-season training at roughly the same time.
At present, teams virtually head from their domestic finals straight to the airport and there will be implications next year for Scotland’s four Test trip to the Americas and South Africa if Edinburgh or Glasgow reach the Pro12 play-offs and/or Heineken European Cup Final.
Scottish Rugby said today in a statement: “We are aware of the discussion on this subject and are engaged in these discussions.”
Under the proposals, changes would not come into effect until the 2015-16 season following the Rugby World Cup.
There are issues to be addressed such as long-term television contracts, especially with the Lions due to tour New Zealand in 2017, but officials appear optimistic that a smoother running domestic campaign will be introduced.
It remains to be seen what effect any change will have in filtering down to the traditional club game where in Scotland there is heavy reliance, in some quarters, on school facilities turned over to summer sports from April onwards.
However, many clubs would be delighted to see the season reach a climax in the best months of the year weather-wise and links to the pro game will remain important, not least for giving fringe players game-time.
Under the probable plans, it is expected the new-look season would start with four or five weeks of Celtic League games followed by Autumn internationals, before returning to league action leading into the Six Nations.
Among countries most affected are England, as the IRB summer tours window begins a week after next year’s Aviva Premiership final.
They are due to visit New Zealand and players involved in that final will not travel until June 1 with the first of three Tests arranged for June 7.
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