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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 14 October, 2019

Sexton leads critics of 'out-of-touch' proposal for new 12-team World Rugby tournament

There was no place for Fiji, Samoa or Tonga in the proposed tournament, with emerging TV markets Japan and USA preferred.

Sexton at a meeting of the Players' Council in November.
Sexton at a meeting of the Players' Council in November.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IRELAND OUT-HALF Jonathan Sexton is among those citing major concerns over a proposed 12-team World Rugby tournament which could launch as early as next year.

A report overnight from the New Zealand Herald detailed the 12-team tournament, which would be made up of Japan, USA and the current sides involved in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship.

All teams would play each other once during a regular season. With no relegation in the reported proposal, the 12-year term would keep the Pacific rugby nations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga out of the reckoning.

“While players gave this idea a cautious welcome when we met at the end of last year,” says Sexton, who is president of the International Rugby Players’ Council.

“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 it needs to be properly understood.”

Among Sexton’s chief concerns following a Tuesday night conference call between 40 players is the mooted culmination of the annual tournament, which would see semi-finals and finals take place after the three closing rounds of November fixtures.

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”

The proposal would see the Six Nations and Rugby Championship continue in their current guise – albeit with USA and Japan added to the southern hemisphere competition – while November and summer Tests would be enveloped into the new tournament.

That summer window would see traditional Test series replaced by hectic travel schedules for northern hemisphere teams playing three different opponents in the southern hemisphere.

Jacob Stockdale Jacob Stockdale playing in Tokyo in 2017. Ireland could face regular long-haul flights to fulfill the proposed fixtures. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Among Pacific island nations, the worry is that their 12-year shut-out will lead to further player exodus. Not just from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, but perhaps even from rugby union itself.

“There are 18-year-old young Samoans, Tongans and Fijians now who will now be looking at ‘who do I make myself eligible for,’” warns chief executive of Pacific Rugby Players, Aayden Clarke in an interview with this morning,

“Because if I play for my home country I will never play in the bright lights of Twickenham and possibly will never have the opportunity to play the All Blacks or Australia.”

Clarke adds: “I’ve been in discussions with the three (Pacific nation) CEOs last night and we talked about the impact of this and one of them straight out said that ‘this will be death of Pacific Island Rugby’ and another discussion indicated that ‘we might as well start playing league’.”

The new tournament reportedly has backing from a broadcaster, whose support could bring annual revenues of up to €8.5 million for each nation.

Devin Toner blocks Campese Maafu Campese Maafu runs at Devin Toner during a 2017 Test. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

With international rugby likely to be pushed outside the current Test window by the plan, the players’ association also highlighted the uncertainty over the impact on Lions tours, the World Cup and the club game.

“Players are definitely open to discussing a new global season,” says England captain Owen Farrell, “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.”

New Zealand’s Kieran Read added:

“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.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss the backlash to World Rugby’s league proposal, captaincy styles, sports psychology and more in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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