Rugby’s top stars voice concerns about planned global league

DUBLIN (AP) — The top players in world rugby are concerned about the proposed new global competition, saying it is “out of touch” and could damage the “integrity” of the sport at the highest level.

Captains of nine of the world’s top 10 nations were among the players speaking on a conference call set up by the International Rugby Players (IRP) council to discuss the likely impact of the planned World Rugby Nations Championship. The competition would see 12 leading countries play each other once per year toward a playoff series that leads to the top northern and southern hemisphere sides meeting in a final.

Concerns raised by members of the IRP council surrounded player welfare, conflict between club and country, the lack of opportunities for Tier Two nations, and the impact on the quality of the international game.

Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, the 2018 world player of the year, said there had been “little consideration” by governing body World Rugby about the issues raised previously by players.

“The issue of player load has never been so topical, however needs to be properly understood,” said Sexton, who is president of the IRP. “To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level test matches in consecutive weeks in November, is out of touch and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings.”

New Zealand captain Kieran Read described the upcoming period as a “crucial moment for rugby” that players are “generally excited about” but underlined there needed to be a balance between commercial needs, player welfare, and the integrity of matches.

“Fans want to see meaningful games,” Read said. “They don’t want to see fatigued players playing a reduced quality of rugby as part of a money-driven, weakened competition that doesn’t work for the players or clubs.”

Chief executives from the top unions and tournaments attended a meeting in Los Angeles last month about the proposed new global competition . The aim is to provide greater context to the international game, which has test matches in June and November along with the northern hemisphere’s Six Nations tournament in February-March, and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship in August to October.

World Rugby said the meeting was “positive and productive” and it would “continue exploring the viability of potential global competition formats.”

“Players are definitely open to discussing a new global season,” England captain Owen Farrell said, “but what we develop has to work with the club game in order to reduce conflict, deal with player release issues, and make sure their welfare is looked after.

“The proposal presented to us at the moment doesn’t seem to have considered this properly and shows no signs of improving this already difficult situation.”

The IRP council said it understands promotion and relegation will not form part of the new proposal, which prevents “Tier Two and emerging nations from accessing top level competitive matches and creating a ceiling on their aspirations to advance and improve.”