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Players association proposes global rugby season

July 9, 2013

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The International Rugby Players’ Association has put forth a proposal for an integrated global season which it says could improve player welfare, prevent burnout and simplify competition structures.

The proposal, formulated at a meeting in Australia this month, recommends that the current June window for tests between southern and northern hemisphere nations be moved to the last three weeks in July.

This would allow the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby tournament to be completed before test matches are played and the northern hemisphere club competitions to start a month later, a move the IRPA says would increase the availability of players for tests.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw described the proposal as a “game-changer for professional rugby.”

“It would be fantastic to address this longstanding season structure debate once and for all. The players and the game would be so much better for it,” McCaw said in a statement issued by the IRPA.

Lions flyhalf Jonathon Sexton said he’s confident a breakthrough could be made on an issue that has long vexed international rugby administrators.

“We see this initiative as beneficial for the global game,” he said. “From a player perspective, we urge our leaders to get in a room together, take a positive attitude and see what can be done.”

IRPA chairman Damian Hopley said the game’s leaders are a “unique” position to make changes to the schedule. The renegotiation of broadcasting contracts in 2015 means that a new season structure could be in place by the following year.

“For the first time since rugby went professional, the major northern and southern hemisphere competition and commercial structures are on the table at the same time,” he said. “This is the ideal time to seriously consider change that will secure player welfare initiatives.”

A previous attempt to develop an integrated global calendar in 2007 failed when the various negotiating parties couldn’t reach a compromise. One of the problems has been the reluctance of northern hemisphere nations to alter their existing schedules.

IRPA said “preliminary discussions” have begun with selected national unions over the proposed schedule change. Executive director Rob Nichol said the players were “extremely motivated” to bring the necessary parties together as quickly as possible.

Under the IRPA proposal, the British and Irish Lions’ 2017 tour to New Zealand would occur after the Super Rugby season, ensuring non-test teams that played the Lions would be at full strength.

The existing schedule for World Cups, the Six Nations tournament, the Rugby Championship and November tests would not need to change, the association said.

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