Can a global calendar work?

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Last week I made a case for supporters being included in any discussions over the introduction of a global season as the Coronavirus pandemic allows Rugby Union the chance to restructure for the good the international and club games.

Also last week I asked on Twitter whether supporters would be happy to lose the European competitions of the Heineken Cup and the Challenge Cup if it meant a British and Irish League forming, which became a conversation on how a global season could look if it came into play.

Now after that I’ve done some planning to draw up a global season that is somewhat achievable and potentially works for both the international and club games.

In it I’ve tried to be somewhat realistic. If there was a blank canvas then I’d love to see less international rugby and more club rugby, for example, but that is just not going to happen. International rugby makes too much money and the Unions aren’t going to cede weekends to the club game.

What I’ve also tried to do is avoid too many crossover weekends between international tests and primary club competitions. At the moment we play a number of games a season without international stars as they crossover with the Autumn Internationals or Six Nations, or players are resting in September after playing summer tests.

Following what the Sunday Times reported last week, the season starts in October with international games as the Northern Hemisphere sides travel down to the Southern Hemisphere for three weeks of games, before a week break and then three weeks of games where the Southern Hemisphere travel North.

There is then a weekend where either a possible Nations League Final could be held, a break could be taken or the club season could get underway, before the weekend after the the club season definitely gets underway.

Ben Smith New Zealand

Nine consecutive weeks of club competition is then penned in spanning the end of November and the entirety of December and January, with potentially that week immediately after the third Northern Hemisphere international test weekend, and another immediately before the Six Nations begins in February.

The Six Nations is then slightly compacted into six weeks instead of seven, with a break either before or after round three, rather than both, while there is then an option to either start the club competitions straight back up again in mid-March, with it definitely resuming on the last weekend of the month.

There is then fourteen weeks of club action penned in from late March until the end of June with that week immediately after the Six Nations an option for another game and the first weekend in July also an option.

The rest of July is then the off-season, with most players likely done by mid-June if they don’t make end of season play-offs, before pre-season starts in August going through September and the next season starts with the October and November international period once again.

All-in-all there are 11 weeks of international rugby, a game against each of the tier one nations, plus potentially one for a Nations League Final. That would take place every two years, with a Rugby World Cup held across October and November the third year and then a British and Irish Lions tour in the fourth.

There are then 23 weekends penned in for club games with a possible four more either side of international breaks, offering potential for 27 weekends of club games without crossing over with international tests. Beyond that there are four or five weeks for the off-season and two months for pre-season.

This is if course for the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere could either fall in line and stage a new Rugby Championship featuring Japan and Fiji in the February/March international window with Super Rugby taking place between December and June.

Handre Pollard South Africa

Or they could continue running Super Rugby between February and July, hold the Rugby Championship in August and September, and go straight into the October and November international window before their off-season in December.

As things stand the Guinness Pro14 currently takes 24 weeks to complete in it’s entirety, while the Gallagher Premiership is at 25 weeks and the French Top14 is out at 29 weeks, with rumours of an extension to 16 teams swirling around. The European competitions then taking nine further weeks on top of that.

The simple facts of the matter are that it is nigh on impossible to ensure a domestic season contains a full league campaign and a European competition without suffering from an international window overlap.

Although losing the Heineken and Challenge Cups, or more specifically the French away trips, would be a shame, it is perhaps a case of when, not if, anyway as the appetite for European competition on the Southern side of the English Channel has been seemingly waning for some time.

The main issue with losing the European competition for Cardiff Blues would be the diminishing value of a season ticket or sponsorship package at the Arms Park. The amount of home games could go down to 10 from 14, while even if a cup competition was created for international windows it would unlikely have the pull of Europe.

Although the Pro14 would likely see an improvement in quality with all sides having the chance to put out star names on a far more regular basis, a surefire way to ensure value for money would be a 24-team British and Irish League offering at least 11 home games a season and going some way to replicate the feel of a European competition.

That is a few steps down the road though, for now the creation of a global calendar to truly spark the professional era into life has to be the aim for all power brokers of Rugby Union. The circumstances are tragic, but the opportunity is great.

Copy of Fixtures 2017_18

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