World Rugby has gone bonkers ‒ and the world’s leading players, individually and through the various player organisations, agree and want no part of it.
By "it" we are referring to the proposed World Rugby League.
Bonkers is a harsh word, but a look at the format they propose for the World Rugby League with six sides from the Northern Hemisphere and six from the Southern Hemisphere ‒ which they want up and running by next year – defies logic.
But the good news is that nothing is yet close to final decision or implementation, despite assertions that the new league will start next year.
The good idea, but in a different format, will solve the present problem of different seasons and test windows and should bring more meaningful test rugby and a necessary cash injection into the game.
New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew, according to the New Zealand Herald, has rejected claims a decision has been made on the future format of international rugby.
In a statement on Thursday, according to the NZ Herald, Tew said nothing had been agreed and insisted any plans must include a "pathway" for the Pacific Islands nations and others. He also said the sustainability of Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 Cup must be protected.
“We are all working hard to find a balance between a model that delivers what fans are demanding, the welfare of our players, while at the same time ensuring we are preserving the integrity of rugby and providing a pathway for the smaller and developing nations here in Oceania but all around the world to develop and participate.”
The world's leading player associations, top former and present coaches, including the great Graham Henry who set the present All Blacks on their dominant way, and the world’s top players, including All Blacks captain Kieran Read, quickly reacted to the plans ‒ still unconfirmed by World Rugby – by listing their worries.
The players, already fatigued by too much rugby, will be expected to play 17 tests per year. The structure is explained below.
All this will take place from July to end November/early December.
In addition to the high workload, the League competition is in itself flawed in the sense that, despite the round robin nature of the proposed 12 teams ‒ six each from the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere – the home and away basis of competition is taken away. If a side is “unlucky” het may draw two easy matches at home, and the world’s best away!
The Six Nations counties will make up the Northern Hemisphere side, while the four sides from Sanzaar’s Rugby Championship will be augmented by Japan and the United States.
And as always, the Pacific Islands have again been neglected. They will be out of the showpiece competition and doomed to play second tier rugby for the next ten years because of the inflexible promotion relegation nature of the new competition.
There will be no promotion or relegation from either the Six Nations or Rugby Championship.
The structure, in a nutshell, will see a round robin competition where each of the 12 sides play one another once. That make for 11 matches.
Then there are also the visit from the six Northern Hemisphere sides to the South where they will play three (friendly) matches each in July, before the competition starts. These will be against three randomly appointed Southern Hemisphere sides for each of the visiting teams. Wales, for example, could play Japan, Australia and New Zealand while Ireland may have to play Argentina then South Africa and Australia.
The 12 competing nations will be the current Six Nations – England, France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – the current Rugby Championship sides of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina plus Japan and USA who will be invited to join the Rugby Championship.
Matches between these sides (not on a home and away basis) will therefore make up the new Rugby Championship structure, with sides playing five matches.
Again he home and away nature of the competition is neglected.
From a Springboks perspective, the international season will kick off in July with the usual three home tests formerly played in June, against Six Nations sides.
♦ The Rugby Championship will then kick off in August and will be a straight round-robin.
The World League will then be completed by the southern sides travelling north in November to play the three teams they didn't play in July in “friendlies”.
The top four teams on the table will then play a semi-final and final in the Northern Hemisphere.
The two teams that make the final of the competition would thus be required to play five tests over five straight weekends, with travel thrown in.
Their season could drag on well into December.
If this is all agreed it will mean all teams will have a guaranteed 17 tests a year in non-World Cup seasons.