By Alan Dymock
WITH PREMIERSHIP Rugby coming out in support of the International Rugby Players Association’s proposal for an integrated global rugby season, there could be a world of possibilities in front of those looking to find an alternative to the Heineken Cup.
If the proposal was taken up it would mean that in season 2015/16 the Northern Hemisphere clubs would start playing in October and finish in June. This, in turn, would mean that by the time the summer internationals roll around, SANZAR’s Super Rugby season would be over and there would be a clear run to play without the fear of disrupting the southern franchises’ play-off hopes.
So far ,so rosy, it would seem. Big hitter Richie McCaw has come out in support, too, calling the potential move a “game-changer” for the sport, while Jonny Sexton appears to speak for several players at once by saying: “We see this initiative as beneficial for the global game.”
However, with Premiership Rugby backing the plans it is worth noting that while they are still no closer to agreeing upon a more favourable format with the ERC shareholders from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales for the future of the Heineken Cup, this move ensures more of an overlapping with Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership and Top 14.
If a “world challenge” format was agreed upon between English, French and possibly South African clubs, when would prospective matches be played?
It has been mooted in the past that Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal would like his Heineken-winning side to play a League-style club challenge match with the eventual winner of Super Rugby, and certainly a one-off game would be possible with a new schedule for competitions from 2015 onwards. Yet, South Africa still appears to be the only logical explanation for a new international club competition for the wantaway factions at Premiership Rugby and the Top 14 because of the favourable time difference. Australia and New Zealand would likely be too far away.
So when Premiership Rugby chief Mark McCafferty says: “We feel there should be some urgent discussions. This is a unique opportunity to get some alignment between the north and the south,” the potential of change is interesting.
In 2010, Mcafferty said of a club challenge match: “Our clubs, as well as those in Europe and the southern hemisphere, have had approaches from Monaco, Abu Dhabi and, most recently, from South Africa. If the stakeholders within rugby don’t create this, somebody else will and we’ll find an outsider coming in.”
Back there were issues with settling on a timeframe. “The sticking points at the moment are the dates of the new domestic competitions in the southern hemisphere, but we’re still working on it,” McCafferty says. With interest coming in for realigning competitions, perhaps the interested parties outside of governing bodies will be sitting up and taking notice.
Negotiations are, in theory, ongoing within ERC. It suits the RaboDirect Pro12 stakeholders for talks to continue without resolution, as the current rights of Pro12 clubs to compete as they currently are is protected. However, if the case for a more global season gathers pace there will be more pressure to get something in place.
Sort out the Heineken Cup formatting and there could only be a one-off challenge match in prospect. Fail to come to compromise with all the ERC stakeholders and the calls for Premiership Rugby to court those in the south could increase, providing that everyone supports global schedule changes.
Anyone responsible for taking minutes at meetings may want to get their rest in now; there is a lot of negotiating and discussing to be done on two huge issues in the near future.
You can have your say by voting in our poll on the Rugbyworld.com homepage: Should there be a global rugby season?