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Opinion

The pieces of the rugby calendar are coming together

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Roar Rookie
1st September, 2020
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1547 Reads

There hasn’t been a lot of direct-quote reporting lately over future season structures – either globally or locally.

However in England, France, South Africa and New Zealand some potentially crucial jigsaw pieces have just been revealed. Let’s take a look and see what we can make of them.

New global calendar
First, I was lucky enough to be given a link to last week’s BBC Five Live Rugby Union Weekly Bonus Pod. This featured an interview with World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper, who with his slicked-back hair with its blonde highlights seems to be cultivating a ‘former heart throb who’s aged and put on a bit of weight’ look.

There were of course the obligatory platitudes about how the stakeholders are all good people with good intent in the unions, club leagues and clubs (yeah right) but I did learn a bit.

He said: “People know they won’t get their perfect scenario, this is what’s changed. People are willing to give up entrenched views if it’s the best for the total outcome… nobody’s threatening to walk away because they’re not getting their way, they’re quietly working through.”

This might be more platitudes, but I suppose it is a little bit promising, although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

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He also talked about a third party “evidence-based” approach on economics and player welfare, which is good news, if people are willing to listen to it.

Another interesting statement was that: “this is also about combining broadcast rights and economic destiny and if the overall pie is bigger… people are willing to suck it in in other areas.”

Pooling broadcasting rights (presumably for a new competition covering every international window), even if the shares aren’t equal, would be a welcome development, forcing at least national unions to help each other to help themselves.

But will the Six Nations in particular really want to reduce their freedom to use their financial muscle however they like?

Antoine Dupont of France performs a box-kick

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

This would be a big change from everyone’s usual naked self interest, epitomised by Bernard Laporte trying to tempt South Africa away from the proposed 2020 Rugby Championship to replace Japan in the one-off (I assume) Eight Nations.

This is yet another example of the Six Nations doing the dirty on the southern hemisphere and Georgia. But if the new comp will make everyone richer overall, maybe it can happen.

The reasons for the possible “new competition” are interesting. He commented about “how we can all project a more unified product to our fan-base and our future fan-base and simplify our offer in a way that’s compelling to the new age fan – that’s critical.”

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Youngsters and general sports fans who aren’t interested in the disconnected July and November internationals might get engaged if they are part of a wider competition to prove the best team in the world that year. That makes sense to me and it is likely to bring significant financial and participation benefits.

Not surprisingly though, considering the French and English clubs’ stance, there is no guarantee of a change in calendar. Gosper said that “we might put a new competition within that calendar… or we might move the calendar around so that there’s less duplication/overlap between club and country in a way that works for both, and the economics seem to serve”

I take this to mean that something like the mooted new competition could happen, even if the calendar doesn’t change.

Nowhere in the above do I see any reason to suspect that especially the French clubs will be willing to change their season in the slightest, or release their players for a new October window. I’m unsure how a new calendar can mean more money for them, unless they get a slice of the international pie, and I suspect that they will simply ignore any evidence that a new season will improve player welfare.

Caleb Timu runs with the ball

(Alexandre Dimou/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Currently the billionaire boys’ clubs are going cap in hand to their government pleading COVID-related poverty because they aren’t allowed fans at games. However, any financial struggles for some clubs are only going to entrench their selfish position that they need their ten-month soap opera to make enough money to entice some of the best players developed by everyone else.

In summary, I predict that the French clubs will shrug, strut and change nothing and World Rugby will tug its forelock. There will be a new money-spinning Test championship, but Six Nations members like Italy will be exempt from relegation whatever their failures on the pitch.

So maybe there will be more money for the top 12 unions, but no rest for the players and little for those who aren’t included at the top table.

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Southern hemisphere club rugby
The big news here is that South Africa rugby boss Jurie Roux only wants four pro teams, and he wants them to head north to the Pro. This isn’t popular with fans, who want to go back to a proper Currie Cup. This would be far more likely to fill stadia and attract South African viewers, the sort of factors that sadly rugby bosses seem to continually ignore. South African fans, make your feeling known!

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It would also be bad news for our players and fans who want to retain some contact with South Africa in a crossover competition. However there was an interesting interview with the Crusaders chief exec Colin Mansbridge, reported the other day in Stuff.

It was great to hear that players strongly liked the intensity of Super Rugby Aotearoa, and that they just need more rest. But what really piqued my interest was this: “My sense is there is a real possibility of something globally happening in the next two or three years, which could be replicable every two to four years after… I think there is a real opportunity for tight, well run localised comps, feeding into European style championships, and then the next natural step is something global.”

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Could my previous article’s dream of the Super Pro be a step closer to reality?