Throughout this international rugby season there has been one on-field issue that has stood out more than any other: injuries.
This is the nature of rugby. Sometimes you get lucky and retain the majority of your squad for the season.
Sometimes you aren’t so lucky, losing not just a large number of players, but perhaps a few big names whose absence can effectively nullify your chances of not only winning, but contending for the finals.
Some teams survive better in these situations than most. Those with a greater talent pool can usually manage. Others who rely on very few top line players to see them competitive throughout a season are far more vulnerable.
But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
There is no absolute solution to this problem. Without the benefit of a draft there is nothing you can do to stack each team with an equal amount of decent players and letting fate sort the rest out.
Teams like the Western Force will always struggle to lure and retain big name players, and places like NSW will always have the upper hand when it comes to contract negotiation.
So what can we do to help out teams who may be hamstrung by a dearth of injuries in the middle of the season?
For years the English Premiere League has allowed for temporary loan transfers of players in the middle of the season. Basically, they are able to loan a second string player or emerging youth player to another team for a limited period of time and for a nominal fee.
This way clubs who are overly hampered by injuries are able to draw on the resources of bigger clubs without long term contracts, drawn out negotiations, or concerns about players playing out of position or being thrown in the deep end too quickly.
The great thing about this system is that it benefits both sides.
The ‘loaner’ gets a small cash injection into the business which would normally not be there. They also allow one of their rising players to get some serious game time and match fitness where it would otherwise not be available.
They get to see their player perform under top competition pressures and will have a better knowledge of their ability when they return.
The ‘loanee’ gets a hungry, young (or experienced) player who wants to prove themselves on the field. They don’t have to make room for them in their squad because they are only a temporary stop-gap measure.
They could be there to cover the bench, or a legitimate starter. They also get to provide an insight to the running and ethos of the club in case this player becomes available or off contract somewhere down the line.
Are there drawbacks? Possibly. Any decent idea doesn’t come without its risks. The player could be injured while on loan, may resent being loaned out, or the players of the new team could resent the loaned gun coming into the team.
However if proper rules and regulations are put in place and it’s used in situations where the team is going to seriously struggle without assistance, I don’t see why it couldn’t work.
With as much rugby as these guys are playing I think we need to look to these sort of solutions.
It probably won’t help a team win a title but it could help in the development of players and the competitiveness of each team, even at the pointy end of a long, hard season.