NZ players are pushing the IRB for a shorter, integrated global season and strike action remains in their armoury as a last resort.
Patrick McKendry and Gregor Paul, NZ Herald
All Black coach Steve Hansen said in yesterday’s Herald on Sunday that probably only player power on the international stage would force the IRB to take seriously the players’ concerns about ever-lengthening seasons.
The game in New Zealand, Hansen says, has gone beyond breaking point and he fears many senior players have had enough: that they are willing to chuck in their All Black jerseys because they can’t cope with the excessive physical and mental demands.
The overwhelming feedback from those players who are quitting New Zealand – and even those who are not – is that the pre-season is dangerously short, the travel burden is too high and too many players are required to play too much rugby.
But given the number of players who are packing up and escaping to Japan, it is now an issue that can’t be ignored. There is irrefutable evidence it is damaging the game here.
Previous attempts to unite the hemispheres have failed, with the governing body saying it was too hard to make change as too many sponsorship and broadcast deals were locked into long-term deals.
STRIKE ACTION POSSIBLE
Rob Nichol, the International Rugby Players’ Association executive director, and the boss of the New Zealand Players’ Association, said strike action was a possibility, but both player unions would back themselves to find a solution before taking the extreme option. He also said the players recognised that striking would be letting down supporters.
However, fixing what is seen as a broken system by the players is high on the agenda.
The IRPA will meet on Australia’s Sunshine Coast after the Lions test in Brisbane next month and what Nichol called an “integrated” season which took into account test match windows would be high on the agenda.
The IRPA will raise the issue with the IRB in the United Kingdom in July.
Nichol said New Zealand’s players wanted a later start to the rugby year and, in another departure from the status quo, no break in the Super Rugby season for the June tests.
A truly global season with all tests played in the same window was unlikely as the Six Nations was played in March and April – the wrong time of year for the Southern Hemisphere.
Nichol said the earliest a new competition structure could happen was 2016 after the current broadcasting deals in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were renegotiated.
“We won’t allow the game’s administrators to follow amateur traditions that are no longer applicable,” Nichol said. “That’s not only competition structure but also commercial. We have to address it.”
Nichol said New Zealand’s top players wanted a 16-week off-season, as opposed to the eight weeks they currently get. That would result in the Super Rugby competition starting in mid-March.
NEW TEST WINDOW
Finding another window for the June tests was also a priority.
“We don’t think it’s good having the June tests in the middle of the Super Rugby competition, that’s not ideal,” he said.
The disparate groups who run the game make any compromise difficult. There is the IRB, the national associations, Sanzar, the professional clubs in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere franchises. How sevens rugby fitted into the bigger picture also had yet to be factored in.
Nichol conceded all organisations had different points of view and commercial imperatives. However, the important thing was for the IRB to give players’ welfare a greater consideration.
Hansen made the comments in the wake of the news that another All Black – Tamati Ellison – is leaving for the more lucrative but, just as significantly, less physical, world of Japanese rugby.
It was possible that next year could be the last time such demands are placed on players.
The 2015 World Cup will limit the amount of tests played outside the global tournament.
Whether that would result in fewer sabbaticals for top players remained to be seen but it is likely to be a talking point again soon.
Conrad Smith is taking one at the end of the year and Dan Carter is likely to follow suit next year for his second break.
Carter’s first sabbatical resulted in a ruptured Achilles while playing for Perpignan in 2009.