|Photo: Zimbio |
Toulouse´s Patricio Albacete one of many yet to play test rugby in 2013
Events that have occured in the post European season have underlined the urgent need for the IRB to find a solution to the biggest problem facing the validity of test match rugby - the lack of a global season. With the issue of player control preventing many of the sport´s leading nations from field their top teams for all international matches there is a need for the governing body of rugby, the IRB to seek and enforce a solution that will enable all test matches played at the appropriate times as well as those that are Rugby World Cup Qualification to all have the best players per nation performing.
Argentina´s three home tests last month were a striking case in point of the error of the international organization of test match rugby. With the European season having been completed only several weeks before the matches Argentina was not able to field a total of twenty-one players who were rested ahead of the Rugby Championship. The result was that Santiago Phelan´s only position that was not impacted was that of scrumhalf. The fourteen other positions were missing players. The reason for the non-selection of so many is because of an agreement between European clubs and the UAR which ensures they will have sufficient recovery after the season and before the start of the Rugby Championship. With the Rugby Championship operating according to the Southern Hemipshere´s rugby season Argentina has to play by its rules which meant shadow sides were fielded aganst England and Georgia in June 2013 and against Italy and France in June 2012.
Also effected were both Canada and the USA with neither North American side able to field its top players for all of their matches in June. Coaches of both sides made it known that they need to look after player interested which meant that the test sides were not the best possible product. Indeed despite there being five tests for the USA Eagles and four of them being in June the Northampton Saints contracted Samu Manoa only faced Ireland. Canada played the same number but London Irish´s Jebb Sinclair missed out on two. Part of the reason was the dates which saw the Pacific Nation´s Cup games played closely together. This saw Hubert Buydens rested for the match against Tonga. He will not play in the Rugby World Cup Qualification matches next month and will instead be playing for Manawatu in New Zealand´s ITM Cup.
IRB Regulation 9, in other words, does not work. The real problem is the calendar. While rugby as a sport is far more international than that of Rugby League the other code does have some advantages and one is that of a global season. The Australian and English Professional competitions are played at the same time which sees international competition not effected and players are able to recover at the same time regardless of the hemiphere in which they play in. It is a model that the IRB ought to look to replicate by having a universal rest period of six weeks. There have been some attempts with one possibility being moving the calendar to have the June internationals in July.
Realistically, though any change needs to be widespread as minimal changes will not free-up the likes of Patricio Albacete, Samu Manoa and Jebb Sinclair. Therefore, the professional seasons need to be brought closer together with the Rugby Championship not being played during the European off-season. Could there be a universal season which sees no professional or international rugby played in the month of August? Both Super Rugby and the European competitions could end in June and not May with July replacing June for test matches. The November tests could be unchanged but the Rugby Championship may need altering and the Six Nations could be moved to March and April. The solution would be for the Rugby Championship to be played entirely in September and October and for the Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and Rabo Direct Pro 12 to all begin in October and finish in June as has been argued by the International Players Association.