If any normal punter in a pub were offered more rugby, there would be no prizes for guessing what he would say. It would be a solid ‘yeah mate’, which would probably be followed by ‘are you getting the next round in then?”.
When the rugby season comes to an end, it leaves a massive hole in the lives of the average rugby fan. It seems wholly unfair that in England, the Premiership coincides with the Six Nations. Of course, this is the same for Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland too, and it deprives the rugby community of even more hard hitting, twinkle-toe stepping and fingernail biting moments.
It will please fans to know then, that the Premiership season is likely to be extended a month, following plans to push summer tours back by a month, from June to July.
This will see the 2021 Lions tour finish in August, and rugby’s World Governing body had anticipated that this would see all club seasons start in October instead of September, in order to give players more time away from the physically draining game.
However, England’s top league immediately announced that they would keep the initial September start to the season, whilst also pushing their final back to the end of June so that there would be no overlaps between international and club matches.
This means that the season itself is spread over a longer period which is likely to mean gaps in the Premiership calendar, but it does allow the season to span over more of the year.
However, for the players, this proposed 10-month Premiership season is an incredibly worrying one. The campaign as it is, at nine months, is already a bruising one. For Premiership players, they are likely to play 22 games in the season, plus the potential to play in the play-offs and then summer tours.
For international players, they will supplement the games they miss for their club with even higher intensity clashes in the Six Nations that leave the fans needing time off just for watching, let alone from playing in.
The extra month is likely to see injuries mount up and players become massively fatigued, which will impact upon the international tours hugely.
With England and Ireland in particular getting closer to the Southern Hemisphere sides, injuries to key players and an inability to play their best teams means that the gap between the northern and southern teams will remain a large one.
With a Lions tour this year, the Premiership contingent, which makes up a large portion of Warren Gatland’s squad would face the prospect of yet another month of rugby, leaving them massively overworked before the ultimate test, a tour of a Southern Hemisphere nation.
Of course, the proposed plans will not come into force this season, meaning this summer’s tour wont be affected.
While the people behind England’s top league may think the extra month will help the development of the game, it could have an entirely adverse effect. Wales’ management may look at the extra month of the Premiership and it may become apparent that their star players are better off in the Pro12 instead.
This could see players like George North and Taulupe Faletau return to Wales, so as to escape an excessive word load, and it would be a massive shame to see someone like North leave:
— Juan Manuel (@juanmadegilead) 19 April 2017
Therefore, in effect, the extra month could see international teams suffer massively, with players potentially picking up injuries, while it could see a mass exodus from the Premiership itself, in order to facilitate a calendar that does not force players into 11 months straight of rugby.
Leicester Tigers captain Tom Youngs summed up the feelings of the players saying it:
“Fills players with dread”
However, there are of course a number of reasons why it would be a positive thing. For the clubs, the added revenue of playing over a longer season would massively help them to continue to grow and develop their own team and their youth.
Perhaps most importantly for the development of northern-hemisphere rugby is the ability for their men to play in the summer. For northern-hemisphere players, they are forced to play most of their season in wet weather and on slippery pitches which does not promote running rugby.
For New Zealand, the warmer and dryer weather has seen them keep every other team at arms reach, while for Argentina, it has allowed them to improve massively in recent years.
Of course, this isn’t the fault of the nations of the north, they have to play in the conditions they are given, and that means a lot more kicking and more of a focus on defensive play and their forwards. The dry conditions in New Zealand will likely see the Lions struggle massively against the All Blacks then, but perhaps an extended season to play more club games in the summer would help massively as the northern-hemisphere looks to return to being a real force in world rugby again.