All Blacks captain Kieran Read, England captain Owen Farrell and Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton are among some of the top players to have voiced their concerns following reports that World Rugby is about to sign off on a major new competition structure of test rugby.
Reports have emerged that World Rugby has been negotiating without consultation with its top players the establishment of a World League. The league would involve 12 nations who will play each other every non-World Cup year.
Japan and USA would join South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the Rugby Championship with the Six Nations remaining unchanged.
Some of the world's best players have quickly responded to the plans by listing their concerns including the exclusion of Pacific Island nations.
BREAKING: Players highlight “major concerns” around World Rugby’s proposed International Competition— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) February 28, 2019
Read what the world's top players have to say here: https://t.co/XwuPbUcUdg#PlayersUnited pic.twitter.com/4WHCGwfI7c
While senior players have consistently voiced their support for the concept, ongoing concerns exist around the detail of the competition format that has been taken to market in recent months.
The International Rugby Players Council of almost 40 players spoke via conference call on Tuesday night (GMT) to discuss the potential 12-year deal, with nine of the world’s top ten international team captains dialing in.
Senior players from around the globe were united in their concern about the proposed format, in relation to:
- Player load challenges from multiple top-level test matches in different countries and time-zones in consecutive weeks
- Increased long-haul travel in short time frames
- A lack of real opportunities for Tier Two nations to progress
- Increased conflicts between country and club demands and Regulation 9 release periods
- Potential impact on Rugby World Cup and Lions tours
- The long-term quality and integrity of the international game
It’s believed that World Rugby bosses are seeking to ratify the deal in the coming weeks, which has raised concerns among the Player Council.
International Rugby Players President Jonathan Sexton said: “While players gave this idea a cautious welcome when we met at the end of last year, it now seems like a commercial deal on the future of the game is being negotiated at a rapid pace with little consideration given to the important points we raised with World Rugby in November.
“The issue of player load has never been so topical, however needs to be properly understood. To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level test matches in consecutive weeks in November, is out of touch and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings”
Player Council member Kieran Read said: “After listening to the issues raised by many of the players, we need to be very careful that we balance the commercial needs of the game, with the player welfare needs and ensure the quality and integrity of matches meets expectations.
“Fans want to see meaningful games; they don’t want to see fatigued players playing a reduced quality of rugby as part of a money-driven, weakened competition that doesn’t work for the players or clubs.
“With new technologies, new broadcast deals and new money coming into the sport, this is a crucial moment for rugby and one that many players are generally excited about. However, we have to make sure that the integrity of the game and welfare of the players is protected.”
England captain Owen Farrell added: “Players are definitely open to discussing a new global season, but what we develop has to work with the club game in order to reduce conflict, deal with player release issues and make sure their welfare is looked after.
“The proposal presented to us at the moment doesn’t seem to have considered this properly and shows no signs of improving this already difficult situation.”
The Players Council understands that promotion and relegation will not form part of the new proposal, preventing Tier Two and emerging nations from accessing top level competitive matches and creating a ceiling on their aspirations to advance and improve.
Samoa captain Chris Vui said: “For countries in this bracket and for Pacific Islanders in particular, our biggest issue has always been the ‘club versus country’ factor. We feel that that a 12-year deal is not workable, particularly when it presents no hope of advancement during that period. This will have the dangerous knock-on effect of luring senior players away from their countries and more towards the clubs, which is the exact opposite of what we’re all trying to achieve”.
International Rugby Players CEO Omar Hassanein confirmed that these views have been conveyed to World Rugby on several occasions.
“World Rugby are failing to respect the players views and genuinely engage on the issues. It will be interesting to see their approach in the coming weeks knowing the current proposal does not have the players support”.