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Does rugby need to move to a global calendar to grow?

A leading figure says rugby needs ‘to bring the northern and southern hemisphere programmes closer together.’

Paul O'Connell Ireland had a two-Test tour of Argentina last summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“WE NEED TO open up a new system for the XV discipline: to bring the northern and southern hemisphere programmes closer together.

“I opened up the debate at the Executive Committee meeting in Dublin earlier this year. At the moment one has the Six Nations which is successful and the Four Nations [The Rugby Championship] which is less so.

“We have to look at the possibility of getting a new model of competitions, to grow profitability and to make it as attractive as possible to broadcasters.

“What is the best format, the quality of the competitions, the safety of the players? It is great to create opportunities and to aid the development of rugby. The Rugby World Cup is the third largest sports event in the world, after the Olympics and the football World Cup, which is huge for us. However, we must maintain our level.”

World Rugby president Bernard Lapasset offered up some intriguing comments on the prospect of a more global calendar in rugby when talking to AFP this week, the latest indication that the sport’s leading figures remain firmly in favour of such a development.

The idea of a global calendar has been in existence since rugby turned professional and is unlikely to go away until it eventually becomes a reality. Indeed, World Rugby [formerly the IRB] has had a working group dealing with the matter from some years now.

Altering the status quo would obviously involve upheaval, but the clubs, unions and supporters would almost certainly eventually benefit, as would the sport itself in offering an improved product to attract new interest.

Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino, Julian Savea, Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams A condensed version of The Rugby Championship starts later this month. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

One of the major problems is that a concrete solution has not yet been agreed upon in terms of shifting the June Test window, the November Test window, the European domestic season or dropping Super Rugby’s break in June.

In 2013, the International Rugby Players’ Association [IRPA] proposed that the Northern Hemisphere season should start a month later than it currently does [therefore running from October until June] and that the June Test window be moved into the last three weeks of July.

That suggestion came on foot of several Northern Hemisphere sides’ preparations for international tours being hampered by Premiership, Top 14 and Pro12 finals. The IRPA’s relatively recent idea also included the removal of the regular month-long break in the Super Rugby season.

Others have argued that the Northern and Southern Hemisphere seasons need to match up completely, starting and finishing at the same time and running their domestic fixtures at the same time, before international competition begins.

Is the IRPA proposal the answer to the conundrum? Or do both Hemispheres need to sync up totally?

Do broadcast commitments make any major changes impossible in the medium-term? Would such changes set the sport back or bring new growth? Let us know how you would envisage a global season working…

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Murray Kinsella

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