With the domestic Tests upon us, I thought it would be pertinent to ask, does rugby need a universal playing schedule?
After the Test against Scotland on Tuesday night, Six Nations champions Wales are heading to our shores. It is great to have the champions strut their stuff here in a three-Test series, but are they going to be the team that rose to glory through the months of February and March?
The squad will still be fit, don’t worry about that. Most of the players just finished their domestic season and Leinster won the European Cup, Harlequins took out the Aviva Premiership and Ospreys were too good in the Pro 12. All the Welsh players will be battle-hardened after a long season. But will they have enough juice in the tank to roll out four more weeks?
On the other hand, the Wallabies are battered and bruised but haven’t endured the rigours of 35 weeks of rugby. Yes, Super Rugby is physical and fast but it’s incredible how the long season wrecks your body. It’s not so much the playing of the games, even though there are restrictions on the number of games players are allowed to play each year, it’s the training workload that is the most significant factor in getting players fit for the weekend. Gone are the days of getting out the Deep Heat to loosen the hamstrings. Planning by the strength and conditioning coaches is calculated to the nth degree to determine how the players feel at that precise time. In a way now it’s up to the sports scientists to tell you that you are ready to play.
It comes down to who is going to give a little to make it work. Us or them. The European season runs from September through to the finals in May. That is a long year of rugby. I know, I have been there in the depths of winter where I was once diagnosed with hypothermia!
The Super Rugby season is a little shorter from February to early August, extended by the inbound Tests this year. What I would like to see are Tests and Club Challenges that are played around the same timeframe to make it as fair as possible. So no team is disadvantaged by fatigue or by the loss of players heading into surgery for the end-of-season joint clean-out.
Even the scheduling of the World Cup has its drawbacks. The southern hemisphere teams come off a domestic season while the northerners have to chase some international friendlies after completing a long season and then start the dreaded pre-season. There is always some kind of gap to contend with. We have to get something sorted.
So how can this be done. My friends in Britain are not going to like me, but I would ask for a shift in timeframe from the northern hemisphere to run over its summer months to coincide with the southern hemisphere season. Make the united season run in a calendar year. Start in January and finish in August for the domestic competitions. Finish with a three-way finals series between Super Rugby, the English premiership and Pro 12. Finish with crowning a Club Champion. Following those games, I’d have a full international season for the domestic Tests – rugby championships and Six Nations – finishing with the overseas tours. This would at least provide a level playing field.
The problem with the current set-up is that teams at the end of their season are just about out on their feet. Remember when England sent a ”C” team here to play the Wallabies in 1998. The result was a 76-0 shellacking. Conversely, the Wallabies’ four-week tour at the end of the year has recently had mixed results.
The benefits of the change of schedule is the competitions are aligned, the players are on an equal basis regarding fitness and fatigue and an element that I was exposed to during my time in Britain – the weather. You do learn to play a different style through winter but if you are wearing numbers 11 to 15, rug up as you don’t see much of the ball.
Rugby is a year-round game, perhaps it’s time to get everyone in sync to provide a level playing field. Until then it will always have a hint of bias.
Twitter - @burkey710