France-Ireland postponed! It’s time for a global rugby season

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    Stuart Lancaster's men managed to miss out on Six Nations glory yet again. (Image: AFP)

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    Saturday night in Europe was icy cold. Parts of England experienced their coldest night ever, with a temperature of 18 degrees minus being recorded.

    And, apparently, the gods of climate took no notice of the predictions of climate scientists, made less than a decade ago, that global warming would ensure that ‘snow would be so rare children won’t know it if they ever see.’

    But the fact is that the France-Ireland Six Nations match in Paris had to be postponed due to icy conditions making the ground dangerous to play on for the players.

    The other Six Nations match of the day, Italy-England played at Rome did get played but on a pitch covered with snow and with snow drifting in from time to time during play.

    The match was a stirring affair. Both sides played well in what must have been hard conditions for expansive rugby. Yet the ball was in play a lot. There was some great back play from both sides.

    Italy scored two tries, both by back and off mistakes by England. The side is now coached by a legendary French coach, Jacques Brunuel. It is a side on the up. If Italy can find a number 10 they could become a tier one side.

    England, under their new acting coach Stuart Lancaster, are also a side on the up. Many of the miscreants from RWC 2011 have been booted out.

    There is a different spirit in the side from the arrogant bully-boys of yesterday. Even Dylan Hartley has unclenched his fists and played hard, tough, uncompromising but without the niggle and dirt he showed earlier in his career.

    If the RFU is smart it will give Lancaster the job permanently. And if this happens, England could have a team in the next year or two that plays attractive and robust rugby, and also winning rugby.

    The excitement and flow of the game demonstrated that you can play rugby in snow.

    And all those die-hards among the European rugby establishment who have resisted the call from southern hemisphere officials and from the owners of a number of prominent English clubs for professional rugby in Europe to play in a rugby year that matches that of the southern hemisphere would, in the past, point to the success in rugby terms of Italy-England and say that rugby should always remain a winter sport.

    Unfortunately, the argument breaks down with the postponement of the France-Ireland match.

    It is not as if icy conditions have not been encountered before. In the 1950s and 1960s straw was often placed on grounds on cold days leading up to Tests to provide a sort of blanket for the grass to keep out the ice. Murrayfield in Edinburgh, a notoriously cold city, even put electrical wiring under the grass to keep the ground from icing up.

    Why this wasn’t done at Stade de France is something that I can’t comment on.

    The most important point to make is not that rugby can be played under virtually any weather circumstances (except ice) but whether it should be played (at the professional level) at the coldest time of the year in Europe.

    In the past whenever the argument that professional rugby should emulate professional league in Europe and not play in the worst of the winter months the pundits (the usual suspects alas) and the blazered officials (again the usual suspects led by the RFU) have dismissed the idea. Rugby is a winter game, they claim, and therefore it should be played in winter.

    In 2004 the NZRU asked the IRB to consider a ‘global season.’ The IRB said they supported a ‘more concerted effort to establish a global season’ and then told the NZRU the Six Nations would continue to be played in February to perhaps April.

    In other words, we are not interested. Eight years on and we are no closer to a global season. But we have had the first postponement of Six Nations match on grounds of bad weather.

    During the 2011 RWC tournament, the issue of a global season came to the surface once more with the warning by the NZRU that if the IRB continued to insist on RWC tournaments being played in September, meaning a truncated The Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri Nations) then the All Blacks might be withdrawn from the tournament in protest.

    Typically the IRB dismissed the threat and the usual suspects in the British rugby press said good riddance to the All Blacks, with Spain shaping up to be an excellent alternative!

    Of course the history of rugby practice, on and off the field, is a history of the IRB, dominated by the Home Unions, resisting virtually every reform put forward until the argument and pressure for the reform is irresistible.

    And this is what is happening with the concept of a global season.

    But not long after RWC 2011, the owner of Bath, Bruce Craig, a billionaire who made his fortune in the pharmaceutical business, put the RFU on notice that unless there was a fundamental change to the rugby season, with the international game and the club game having their regulated block of time, ‘either in summer or whenever it is agreed to be played,’ then ‘club rugby can’t continue as it is.’

    Craig wants international bodies to have 16 weekends in the year to run their competitions, when they usually have 11 or 12. ‘That leaves 36 weekends for the club game, to be played where we see fit,’ he argued, ‘and if that means summer, so be it.’

    He was extremely critical of the IRB. ‘The IRB rules with a rod of iron. It’s a dictatorship.’ He implied that other owners in England were behind him in the push to get a global season. ‘It won’t take long to solve all this between sensible people.’ But if it isn’t resolved? ‘Then there will be conflict.’

    If there is a conflict, the clubs in Europe will win. Why? In the SANZAR countries the players are contracted to their respective national unions.

    This gives the ARU, the NZRU and the SARU control over where and when their players play. This was the arrangement that was sensibly put in place when rugby went professional in 1996.

    But in Europe, the various national unions were lazy or stupid or both. They allowed the clubs to sign up their players. This means that the clubs are the major paymasters for the players.

    Sooner or later, if the clubs don’t get what they want from the IRB (which has been dominated remember by the Home Unions), then the clubs will withdraw their players from international duty.

    French clubs have already done this to Pacific Island players during the 2011 RWC. So there is a precedent for this action.

    There is a great sense of deja vu about all of this, as far as I am concerned. During RWC 1999 I interviewed Nigel Wray, the owner Saracens. Wray’s office near Selfridges in the heart of London were spacious, oaken walled and lined with expensive sports prints. Wray is dapper and ultra-smart.

    He told me his vision for Saracens was for their season to be played in summer and for supporters to be able to bring their family to matches played on warm Saturday afternoons.

    Thirteen years on, Wray’s vision remains just that. But in January this year he said the unwillingness to move the Six Nations from its longstanding February/March slot, with the consequence that clubs lose their best players in the middle of the crucial league season, makes European rugby a ‘laughing stock’ in the southern hemisphere.

    Something has to give on this issue. Dare I say it, but the IRB is skating on thin ice if it thinks it can resist a global rugby season for much longer.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • Roar Guru

      February 13th 2012 @ 7:52am
      Atawhai Drive said | February 13th 2012 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Spiro, the France-Ireland game could have gone ahead had it been scheduled for a 3pm kickoff.

      I wouldn’t go to a match kicking off at 9pm even if it were played in summer.

      • February 13th 2012 @ 8:35am
        Chris said | February 13th 2012 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        That’s because you’re not French clearly. 9pm start for events in Europe is pretty normal.

        • February 13th 2012 @ 9:06am
          nickoldschool said | February 13th 2012 @ 9:06am | ! Report

          True…but not for 6 Nations or 5N games. It used to be all games Saturday arvos 3pm. The only evening game was the final of the championship played in June. To play at 9pm is a very recent trend in 6N rugby.

      • February 13th 2012 @ 1:26pm
        Who Needs Melon said | February 13th 2012 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        I’m with Atawhai. I see this as yet another argument for more day (as opposed to night) games.

    • February 13th 2012 @ 8:02am
      Sean Fagan said | February 13th 2012 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Rugby is a winter game, though more correctly, rugby is a winter day game. The France-Ireland game would’ve been ok if it had been a day game. These current conditions also seem to be far worse than the normal winter.

      The straw was to prevent the ground being frozen over &/or covered in snow during the night, then cleared &/or burned away before the match. You can see it piled up on the sidelines in this NU rugby game at Halifax in 1901

      • February 13th 2012 @ 2:51pm
        King of the Gorgonites said | February 13th 2012 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

        love the old footage Sean.

        one thing that is very noticeable is how much bigger the players of today are.

        i remeber reading something awhile back about the Springboks and ocmparing old players (1960s) against modern era players, specifically in regard to their size. it was something liek the biggest forward bok of the 60s is comparable to the smallest back bok of the modern age.

        any RU shots from that period. its hard to get a read of the game too much, but it kind of looked liek an under 8s soccer match – where all the kids chase after the ball with obvious positions or tactics. though there were some solid hits out there.

        • February 13th 2012 @ 4:28pm
          Sean Fagan said | February 13th 2012 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

          1908 Wallabies & 1908 Kangaroos – all up that’s 65 footballers from the Aust rugby pool of 1907 – had one player over six foot tall, one at six foot tall, and everyone else under.

          If we could stand Dally Messenger today alongside George Gregan (in playing condition) or Matt Bowen, DallyM would be the shortest and lightest of the three. A third of the 1908 Kangaroos (dozen players) were the same size or shorter.

          Mind you, it isn’t necessarily to do with football – every generation seems to be taller than the one before.

          Would be interesting to find the height/weights of the players in the Maori teams of that time.

          • February 13th 2012 @ 4:47pm
            King of the Gorgonites said | February 13th 2012 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

            Wow thats pretty amazing about the height. nowadays if your not 6 feet tall, then you can basically forget abotu being a profesional footballer in wither rugby codes (perhaps RU HBs excluded. though i think welsh halfback Mike Phillips is about 6’3).

            i guess every generation gets bigger, and with improved diets and living conditions humans are continually evolving into larger specimens.

            certainly leads to a different game though. the smaller szies wold have created more room, allowing players with speed and footwork to really make use of the space. however, i guess in saying that, if everyone was about the same size, then most players would have been of a similar speed.

            • February 14th 2012 @ 1:12am
              mattamkII said | February 14th 2012 @ 1:12am | ! Report

              Lads, in developed countries people have actaully almost stopped getting taller over the last 20 years. All come down to diet and health as you point out. But yeah we dont see the rapid generation v generation changes we say in the last century.

              KOG – you’re also over stating the height thing a touch. Still plenty of players in all codes below six foot. But yeah its hard pressed.

              As for pro rugby, aside from locks actually think it has more to do with weight that height…bare with me. Rugby has become obsessed with bulk. Moving 115kg around a park on a 6’1 frame is much easier than 5’9. Better conditioning also means taller players have bulked up more and again have an advantage over their shorter mates.

              In actual AFL player has got smaller over the past few years. They have started looking for players with skills rather than athletes and teaching them skills. a few years back just about every bloke on an AFL field was 6’2 and 85 kg. This has changed a lot.

    • February 13th 2012 @ 8:32am
      Justin said | February 13th 2012 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      SPiro I agree it should be more a global season and that rugby in Europe over summer would be a large boost for the game for the quality and spectators, crowds etc.

    • February 13th 2012 @ 8:38am
      Chris said | February 13th 2012 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Last time I looked, crowds (and TV ratings) for Six Nations games were far better than Tri-Nations games, so I’m not sure there’s any particular groundswell of demand for change about this.

      On reading this article, I would surmise that the real issue is the control that clubs have over players, rather than the countries. When the season is played is just a red herring.

    • Columnist

      February 13th 2012 @ 8:38am
      Spiro Zavos said | February 13th 2012 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Sean, great clips of rugby being played in snow in 1901. The notion that rugby is a winter game follows from the fact that it has always been played in winter. Historically in English-speaking countries, rugby is the winter game and cricket is the summer game. But as rugby becomes more a world game it is moving away from the English-speaking restrictions. There is no summer cricket season in France or the other European countries, in the Americas and most of Africa.
      It makes sense to take rugby out of the heart of the European winter, the professional game that it.
      Another advantage would be that rugby in Europe would not have to compete continuously with football in terms of media coverage and public support.
      Also, the global season would open up interesting one-offs, such as the European champions playing the Super Rugby champions for the world club title etc
      It’s all very well saying that if it had been an afternoon match it would not have been postponed. But afternoon matches in tournaments like the Six Nations are more than likely a thing of the past.

      • February 13th 2012 @ 9:21am
        Sean Fagan said | February 13th 2012 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        I agree Spiro, the game has moved on, just pointing out that scheduling a night game in the depths of a Northern winter is not without risk.

        A global season has a lot of appeal & potential by moving rugby to the Northern summer – but even in RL’s Super League the game in the middle of an English or French summer is not particularly appealing to play or watch due to the heat.

        The same can be said for Super Rugby if we have a late summer burst (but maybe that’s me – I prefer a rough and tumble type of rugby game rather than the expansive throwabout less defensive game that comes the result of heat sapped tired players).

        Rugby/football was a winter game in England as it was something (the only thing?) that could be played at that time of the year to keep schoolboys & young men occupied & moving. The start of football in both Sheffield and Melbourne in late 1850s refer to need to keep summer cricketers fit as a primary reason to start football clubs. One of the reasons football development in Sydney lagged behind Melbourne & NZ is that cricket could be (and was) played for nearly the entire 12 months of the year (along with Harbour sports such as rowing and sailing).

      • Roar Guru

        February 13th 2012 @ 1:42pm
        Poth Ale said | February 13th 2012 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        “The notion that rugby is a winter game follows from the fact that it has always been played in winter. Historically in English-speaking countries, rugby is the winter game and cricket is the summer game. But as rugby becomes more a world game it is moving away from the English-speaking restrictions. There is no summer cricket season in France or the other European countries, in the Americas and most of Africa.”

        It’s somewhat misleading to define rugby as solely a winter game in a discussion about creating a global season. It is the longevity of the season that is as much to do with scheduling. You also need to take account of differing traditions and cultures.

        The rugby season starts in late-August, one of the hottest months of the year It finishes after the June Internationals, leaving about 6 weeks before they start pre-season again. Not all the rugby leagues and comps are played in series (one after the other), but in parallel, during the November Internationals, the Heineken Cup, and the 6 Nations. The only tests where other games are not being played at the same time for the 6 Nations is during June.

        Winter, in Celtic countries, is generally observed to start on 1 November, and Spring starts on 1 February. If France had been playing Ireland in Lansdowne, they would have had a cold, but sunshiny day. Weather regarded by many NH rugby players as ideal weather – pitch is firm, little wind, and sharp conditions. However, it was snowing in Rome. Weather differs across Europe.

        It’s not accurate for Spiro to say rugby is the winter game and cricket is the summer game in English-speaking countries. This may well be true for England,and parts of Wales possibly, but it’s not in Scotland, Ireland, whatever about France or Italy. And in Ireland’s case, whilst rugby competes with the No 2 sport soccer during its current season, it would be competing against the No 1 sports – football and hurling across the summer and autumn – May to September. So moving away from the popularity of competing with soccer would not be agreed upon by all the Home Unions that Spiro seems to believe always act in concert.

        Equally, Bruce Craig’s proposal about shifting the season is for the benefit of English club owners (and he claims on behalf of French ones too.) Two points on this.

        Firstly, Spiro asserts that “in Europe, the various national unions were lazy or stupid or both. They allowed the clubs to sign up their players. This means that the clubs are the major paymasters for the players.”

        This is simply inaccurate. The players of four of the Six Nations work on a provincial (Ireland), regional (Wales and Scotland) or franchise (Italy) basis. The international players are centrally contracted and paid by their Union for the most part. It is one of the reasons why Irish provincial teams in particular have become so successful at European level in recent years. The players are managed better and developed for European games. It’s why this season, there are 5 Pro12 teams in the knockout stages of the H Cup. And it’s why English club owners – again – called for changes in the Pro12 league qualification system in order for more English teams to qualify in the future.

        Mr Craig’s plea for changing the season structure was solely to do with not losing players to Heineken Cup or to 6 Nations whilst they have to play league matches every week because of the existing league structure in England with relegation and qualifying spots for H Cup an ever present requirement. It’s the same agenda for Mr Wray as Spiro correctly points out. And since both men would like to have club rugby moved to more of the summer months, well that would leave 6 Nations occupying the winter slots it already has and incurring the inclement weather that served as the basis for this article.

        Finally, I have to take issue with Spiro’s last comment in his post above: “But afternoon matches in tournaments like the Six Nations are more than likely a thing of the past.” I think if he were to examine kick-off times for most of the matches in the 6 Nations, he’d find that they are in the afternoon. There has been some trialling of Friday evening matches, but generally, these only work with closely adjoined countries – e.g. Wales and England. for the most part, the format is two afternoon matches on Saturday 2pm and 4/5pm and one on Sunday afternoon. France tends to be the exception because of the demands of French TV.

    • February 13th 2012 @ 9:02am
      nickoldschool said | February 13th 2012 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      “Craig wants international bodies to have 16 weekends in the year to run their competitions, when they usually have 11 or 12. ‘That leaves 36 weekends for the club game, to be played where we see fit,’ he argued, ‘and if that means summer, so be it.’

      Thing is, club rugby in Europe already runs from mid-end August to early June. So now they would like to keep summer for international rugby? It doesnt make sense. Players can’t play rugby 52 weeks/year. International players are the best of their teams and there is no way their club, which is also their employer, will rest them if they don’t have to, and rightly so. A year will always be 52 weeks: if your club rugby comp’ takes 28-30 w-e(top 14), the Heineken cup 8, the Six Nations 5 and 5-8 more during the 2 tours from in November and June, your rugby calendar is already full. Shorten national comps and/or get rid of one of the 2 tours (most euro nations send their b teams anyway as their top players are exhausted or injured in June when they have played FT rugby for the last 10 months). And what about fitness preparation, training sessions etc…?

      Regarding Saturday’s game, yes, a 9pm kick off was a huge blunder and showed organisers’ utter disrespect towards supporters. Irish and French fans have paid hundreds of euros to get there…for nothing. What a joke! 3pm would have been ok but nope, they chose to stick to their guns. (temp’s has been in the minuses for at least 10 days in Europe…). Back in the days, all 5N games were played at 3pm on Saturday. But now, TVs want all games played at different times with one on prime time in the evening….
      To Atawhai: “I wouldn’t go to a match kicking off at 9pm even if it were played in summer.”…isn’t it what we got during the RWC to suit Euro audiences? For the last couple of years, the Spanish liga plays some games at midday to suit Asian markets… yep, thats where we are heading.

      • Roar Guru

        February 13th 2012 @ 1:47pm
        Poth Ale said | February 13th 2012 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

        “(most euro nations send their b teams anyway as their top players are exhausted or injured in June when they have played FT rugby for the last 10 months)”

        Simply not true, Nick. If you actually checked the teams that have toured over the last 5/6 years, they have been at full-strength allowing for injuries to some players. And you forget that SANZAR fought for and got three match tours in June starting this year, so reducing them would hardly be on their agenda.

        • February 13th 2012 @ 2:15pm
          King of the Gorgonites said | February 13th 2012 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

          come on pots. you know that is not true.

          team use “injuries” as excuses, but we all know most plaeyrs were actually getting a rest. that is why when you look at the result there have been very few win by NH teams in the south.

          to be fair that trend has been slowly changing. i believe in 2010 most NH teams did their most to send their players down here.

          the worst exampel though was when the french were touring australia and had all their best players battling out in the top 14 final. that was appaling, but i believe has now been rectified.

          • February 13th 2012 @ 10:05pm
            Ben S said | February 13th 2012 @ 10:05pm | ! Report

            Pot Hale is right. If a weakened squad is sent it tends to be the exception to the rule, just like the weakened squad that NZ sent to Europe in 2001 or 2002, and the squad that SA sent to England in the mid-00s.

          • Roar Guru

            February 14th 2012 @ 9:30am
            Poth Ale said | February 14th 2012 @ 9:30am | ! Report


            I do know it’s true. Teams using injuries as excuses is just a tired cliched response by some SH fans/commentators who are too lazy to check the facts. If you actually checked the teams from say Wales, Italy, Ireland and England who have toured in June over the last 5/6 years, you might arrive at a different conclusion.

            This weakened NH teams touring in June mantra has been chanted ad nauseum on this forum with only the occasional informed poster acknowledging that it has changed substantially since the early 2000s when it was more prevalent for a number of years.

            “the worst exampel though was when the french were touring australia and had all their best players battling out in the top 14 final. that was appaling, but i believe has now been rectified.”

            When exactly was this occasion? And why would it be appalling for the Top 14 to play its final when it always plays it?

            • February 14th 2012 @ 1:09pm
              King of the Gorgonites said | February 14th 2012 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

              Pot Hale.

              lets for one mintue accept that you are correct and that the NH teams always send their best available teams downunder. then if that is the case then it is a very poor reflection of the quality of NH teams considering how few games they have managed to win here. I defended soem of those results on the basis that they were not the best possible teams available from the NH. however, you claim that is not the case. so they are the best available teams, but they are just very average sides in terms of quality and the ability to win games?

              from memort i cant recall to many NH victories against the SANZAR nations. there was a memorable French victory in NZ. the english played soem great rugby in Sydney the other year, but besides that it makes very depressing reading for the Northern lads.

              Perhaps one day your NH teams will be competitive down here.

              • Roar Guru

                February 14th 2012 @ 10:04pm
                Poth Ale said | February 14th 2012 @ 10:04pm | ! Report

                You don’t need to accept it for one minute. Just accept it. Equally you are right in saying that the record of NH teams in touring in June has been abysmal. It has been. No one denies this.

        • February 14th 2012 @ 8:38am
          nickoldschool said | February 14th 2012 @ 8:38am | ! Report

          By ‘B’ team I didnt mean NH nations leave their top 30 players at home and bring the next 30. NH coaches take advantage of the June tour to ‘experiment’ and bring fringe or young players, but definitely not the 30 players they would have brought if they were playing the RWC. Then as KOG says below, are players really injured, tired, unfit etc, no one knows. Every rugby nation has a pool of 50 players who play international rugby. To say they bring their best team or not is very subjective and in saying that i accept i was wrong in my statement. Yet, to say they bring their 30 best players is also wrong. The fact SANZAR fights for these tours isnt surprising: they need the money anf they have the ‘blanks’ in their calendar. A couple of years ago, Ireland brought a “weakened squad’ to tour Oz and NZ. No Rory Best, Paul O’Connell, Kevin McLaughlin, Keith Earls, Fergus McFadden, all more or less ‘injured’. I agree with you: sanzar wants these tours, hence the deals with Wales. Am just not sure most NH players and club coaches want them knowing their players have been on rugby fields for the last 10 months and that training starts end of June early July for the next season.

          • February 14th 2012 @ 9:09am
            nickoldschool said | February 14th 2012 @ 9:09am | ! Report

            A couple or articles about the ongoing issue of NH sending ‘weakened’ teams during their June tour down under (it has been going on for years )

            • Roar Guru

              February 14th 2012 @ 10:11am
              Poth Ale said | February 14th 2012 @ 10:11am | ! Report

              Nick – you’ve cited as your evidence a Roar article containing the usual lazy one-liner about B teams and nothing else of note or detail. The second article is a Guardian blog from 2008.

              I’ve defended this point before on the Roar that all NH teams send weekend squads on June tours. Leaving aside the point that SH teams are not averse to doing the same when they tour in November – SA in particular – it is inaccurate to paint or tar all nations with the one brush.

              The real truth behind this complaint from SH commentators about NH weakened teams is really a shorthand for France and England – because that is who the sporting media and chattering classes are interested in.

              You cite the example that Ireland brought a “weakened squad” to tour OZ and NZ. You say the players were more or less ‘injured’ (your use of quotation marks, not mine, as if to imply these were fraudulent). Which of these players do you believe was faking it? Because if you knew the history of that tour, you’d know the facts behind the injuries and that a number of the players had missed some of their league and cup matches as well, and that the tour started with a match against the Barbarians in Limerick in which another couple of the players already picked for the tour were injured during the match. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. But Ireland toured with their best team available – there is no doubt on that score.

              I’m not sure what you mean by “SANZAR wants these tours, hence the deals with Wales”. This was an IRB negotiated deal led by Steve Tew of NZRU who was accusing NH teams of sending weakened teams (he really meant England and France and largely insulted Ireland who have toured New Zealand regularly over the last decade with their their best full-strength teams whenever possible – go check the team sheets).

              The deal was that France, England, Ireland and Wales would commit to having three-game tour series in a single SH country each year except in a Lions or RWC year. The unions control and contract the Irish and Welsh players and what their provincial teams want nearly always come second.

              If you had noted the comments of both Warren Gatland and Declan Kidney when they took over as coaches of Wales and Ireland, you would know that both publicly stated they were targeting getting wins in the SH as part of their longer-term development plans. It’s why Warren Gatland seeks to have Wales play SH teams whenever and wherever possible – SA in June 2011, Australia in November 2011. Equally Martin Johnson made it equally clear that’s what he wanted to achieve with England, and was successful in going so in Australia. Nick Mallet always chose to bring his best squad available on tour with Italy – what would be the point of bringing a purposely weakened team?

              I would agree with you that it may have been a deal that the NH unions should not have agreed to given the much longer season that the NH players already endure.

              However, there may be a bit of balancing this year as SANZAR comes to terms with the new schedule they have negotiated for themselves in a much longer Super Rugby season, a break for internationals in June, resumption of the SR finals, then the Quad Nations, and finally the November internationals.

              • February 15th 2012 @ 8:57am
                nickoldschool said | February 15th 2012 @ 8:57am | ! Report

                Mate, as i said in my previous comment, the concept of “the best possible squad’ is subjective anyway. You would pick 30 guys, i would pick 30 others and same with the coaches. So when you say “their best full-strength teams whenever possible – go check the team sheets’, i cant agree or disagree as its up to me to think these 30 were the best availbale at that time.

                Then when you say “If you had noted the comments of both Warren Gatland and Declan Kidney when they took over as coaches of Wales and Ireland, you would know that both publicly stated they were targeting getting wins in the SH as part of their longer-term development plans”. What do you expect them to say? “naa, the June tour is a holiday’?! Thats a PC speech that all coach in any sport have to use to please everyone. Obviously teams always want to win a game: thats what competing is all about. SA wanted to win in Oz and NZ during last year’s TN, it doesnt mean they sent their best 30 players (oh, but de Villiers said so you might tell me!?). Plus in the north clubs put a lot of pressure on their players and federation to keep or rest some of them when they are tired. Anyway, am not trying to convince you but you are certainly not going to convince me either that they always bring their 30 best players available in their June tours. hope it will change though.

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