I’ll put a caveat on this!!!
I wrote most of this before the news that SANZAR and the Six Nations were working to align a world calendar, and that there is a plan to start Pro-14 in August…..
Similar to my ramblings about moving the Scottish Football Season to a Summer sport, could this be the opportunity for Word Rugby to get their much-coveted global rugby calendar, and potentially a revised Nations Championship. As is being discussed currently due to the COViD-19 pandemic (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/52748603), I think this is an excellent opportunity to move Northern Hemisphere (NH) Rugby to a Summer Sport, similar to Rugby League.
There appears to be little chance of the Autumn tours taking place this year, and any subsequent rugby season will be severely curtailed or the finish will be in the latter part of 2021. With the PRO-14 and English Premiership planning to restart in August, this now gives the NH an ideal option to move to Summer rugby, potentially from 2021, or from 2022, depending if there was a need for an extended period of time to iron out any concerns from the Nations or leagues.
For a 2021 start, this could be easily achieved as there is at least eight league games (not including playoffs), and three weekends of European Competitions left , the season could be finished by the end of October / start of November , or even the end of November, if the Six Nations was to be completed. This would then allow a period of rest before the new season starts in 2021. The season would the fall into line with the Southern Hemisphere (SH).
Alternatively, they could finish the current season and start the new season at the start of November 2020, and then finish later and do a truncated season the following year to finish at the end of 2021. This may not be ideal, as there is a British and Irish Lions tour, which is longer than a normal summer tour, which may influence any decision.
I do feel that the move to a Summer rugby season in the NH should be seriously considered. I’ve always been interested in this concept, and if they did so now, it would give the rugby season a reset point, as I feel that the rugby season in the NH would be all over the place for an extended number of years, as they try and get back to aligning to an August start and May finish.
Another concern would be if they can’t start in August, or start training in mid-June. There has been much debate, in how long the players would take to get up to speed. Most experts (which I am not one), consider that due to the nature of the lockdown, and the physicality of rugby, it would take a minimum of six weeks, while others are saying eight weeks, especially for the forwards. With most clubs having furloughed their playing staff, it will been up to the players to stay fit, and while they will have, they will not have had the expert assistant of Strength and Conditioning coaches, or even an outline plan, that would normally have been given to them in their 2/3 week break in the off-season. They would have had at least ten weeks of non-contact, which will have affected their muscular strength and endurance, which is why the eight weeks minimum seems to be suggested. The strength aspect is especially true for the front row, where their specific muscle groups can only truly be developed by scrummaging.
Having played rugby in New Zealand (2006), I would say that the weather there, while it can be wet and windy, does not have the same extended period of poor weather, compared to the UK. And the weather in the UK (I do realise that the change would influence France and Italy) in the Summer, is only occasionally not conducive to top class rugby due to the heat, but tends to be more of an exception, and is likely to occur when the International sides are on tour in the SH. The nature of the surfaces elite rugby is more beneficial to summer rugby as rock solid dry ground is more an exception than the rule. This would also allow for the development of a more skill-based outlook, compared to the often needed, stick it up the jumper, that we often see. Just look at the Calcutta Cup game this year at Murrayfield.
A major sticking point for the Global Rugby Calendar to come to fruition may be the clubs of France and England. While most of the other countries have club sides that have strong ties to their national sides (Pro-14, Super Rugby), in England and France, the clubs are self-determining and are a major power in their nations game. They will be for looking after number one, which is fully understandable, so the potential loss of money for the potential six months of a season that would occur in the transition to a calendar year programme, may be sticking point. However, with the Lord Myners report on the salary cap, having been published (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/52661940), this may relieve some of the pressure on clubs, as they won’t be able to manipulate the salary cap guidance, so the lack of funds may not have as much impact on their budget. However, the report does not affect France, so there may an outgoing of players to the continent, where more money may be available, and this may have a detrimental effect on the English national side.
The one key part that may also have a positive influence on the English Premierships decision is the role of CVC Capital Partner. CVC have just bought a stake in the PRO-14, to go along with their slice of English Premiership Rugby, and are also expected to buy a share of the Six Nations, (though that is on hold due to the Pandemic). While not a controlling interest, this may be sufficient influence of the club game in England, so the clubs may be more accepting of the move to a global calendar through in NH summer, as CVC seem to be the driving force behind the alignment of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
I do think this is the way forward. I am not suggesting that the amateur or lower level club game, follow this route, but if the Elite end of the sport is planning in becoming a closed shop (no relegation), this may be ideal, as it would also allow the game to get a further foothold in the TV market, by playing the games when the screens are not flooded by football.