An aligned global rugby calendar currently being discussed by Northern and South Hemisphere nations is in everyone’s interest in terms of commercial benefits and meaningful Test matches, IRFU chief Philip Browne believes.
A concerted effort at achieving an alignment that the world game has been seeking for years could be moving closer as a result of the financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic with the Six Nations and its southern hemisphere equivalent SANZAAR yesterday confirming they were working closely together to achieve that objective.
Referring to their collective as “the Nations”, the Six Nations, which represents the unions of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, and SANZAAR, acting for Rugby Championship participants Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa issued a joint statement which outlined a set of key principles between the parties.
IRFU chief executive Browne welcomed the progress being made, as did his counterparts in Wales and Scotland.
"I've been involved in talks on that topic for 15 years,” Browne said. “There are a lot of challenges in trying to get a greater level of alignment between the hemispheres.
"There are two motivations here. One is around trying to get a greater level of alignment. The second is to actually create more meaningful competition. I think there would be a view that the tours of the Southern Hemisphere in June-July are not the most commercially lucrative, there's not a heck of a lot of meaning to them.
"Equally, when the Southern Hemisphere teams come up to Europe in November, it's a set of one-off matches, there's no sense of structure or meaning to the matches.
"From a commercial point of view, it makes some sense to see if we can put something together that has greater commercial meaning, greater commercial value, and be of greater interest to the general rugby public.
"Given the circumstances at the moment, it's in everyone's interest to see if we can revisit those issues and see if we can find some solution that delivers all of that.
"Player welfare obviously has to come into it in a big way and that has always been one of the challenges. There has been a good level of interaction going on between the Six Nations and SANZAAR to see if we can find solutions to the problems that have been there."
There were no solid details or proposals for what a new and much-needed global calendar may look like. In their joint statement, the Nations said: “Following the World Rugby meetings in March this year, SANZAAR and the Six Nations have been working closely over the lockdown period against a set of key principles between the parties, to develop and agree proposals for an aligned global calendar.”
World Rugby’s plans for a Nations Championships, proposed last year, were met with resistance by many tier-one unions on both sides of the Equator for a variety of reasons but the Covid-19 pandemic of the last six months has laid bare the fragility of the current model of Test rugby and its relationship with the club game. Friday’s statement noted a changed outlook and a commitment “to eliminate self-interest”.
“Even though there may be different preferences, from the outset the Nations have adopted a mindset that has sought to eliminate self-interest and recognise that the international and club game have shared mutual benefits that if approached and managed correctly can enable both to flourish.
“A further consultation process, in total transparency with unions, clubs and players, will commence as all parties work towards an aligned global calendar that can deliver a clear and coherent narrative.” That commitment could see the Six Nations, traditionally scheduled in February and March, and the Rugby Championship, played in August and September, take place in the same international rugby window.
“The key principles that have underpinned the work to date are;
Significantly mitigate overlaps between club and country fixtures Better aligned player release windows for players, stakeholders and competitions Improve player welfare Improve narrative and competitiveness of International and Domestic Competitions around clear windows Define clear high-performance pathways for Emerging Nations through the delivery of an internationally more inclusive game Evolve competition structures that are underpinned with enhanced commercial offerings Restore public faith in the core values of rugby and showing strong collective leadership in the best interests of the game.”
The Six Nations/SANZAAR statement added it was working with key stakeholders “in an effort to resolve an issue that has held the game back for many years” and they were “committed to putting rugby on a progressive path”.