Rugby World editor Sarah Mockford explains why she thinks there should be fewer Internationals
Opinion: There is too much Test rugby
Brett Gosper stirred the proverbial pot recently, suggesting that rugby’s big unions were playing too many Test matches. This autumn all four home nations are playing Tests outside the official international window – with England v South Africa, Ireland v Italy and Wales v Scotland being staged on Saturday 3 November.
Yes, the ‘fourth autumn Test’ can be an important money-maker for unions, a big crowd at the various national stadiums boosting coffers, but it also flies in the face of the continual talk of putting player welfare top of the agenda.
Take Ireland v Italy. It’s being played at Soldier Field in Chicago, site of Ireland’s famous win over New Zealand in 2016, and should spark interest in the sport in the USA. But crossing the Atlantic twice in the space of seven days, arriving back in Ireland less than a week before their subsequent Test against Argentina, doesn’t chime with prioritising what’s best for players.
On top of the physical exertions of these packed Test schedules, there are also the mental pressures. For the Europe-based players, they are going from two weeks of high-intensity Champions Cup rugby to a month of high-intensity Internationals and then back to more high-intensity Champions Cup rugby.
Related: Autumn Internationals 2018 Fixtures
Then there are the Tests themselves. The reason there has been so much hype around the England v New Zealand fixture this November is it’s the first time they have played each other in four years. There’s a rarity value.
Ireland v Italy? Wales v Scotland? These teams play each other every year in the Six Nations so another fixture between them doesn’t generate excitement in quite the same way.
Plus, the fact they are outside the official Test window means big names are missing from these fixtures as their clubs are under no obligation to release them. No Finn Russell or Greig Laidlaw for Scotland. No Dan Biggar or Liam Williams for Wales. No Faf de Klerk or Willie le Roux for South Africa. No Sergio Parisse for Italy.
Next year’s World Cup warm-ups are similarly familiar, with the same teams playing each other yet again. The Georgia v Scotland fixtures are arguably the most intriguing because they’re different.
Test rugby is the pinnacle of the game but the market is at risk of becoming saturated and as such is losing its mystique. We think it’s time for unions to start thinking quality over quantity. As Gosper says: “There’s a growing belief less may be more.”
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This article originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of Rugby World.
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