No sooner has the World Cup jamboree finished than we are already looking ahead to the next batch of international rugby fixtures with the 6 Nations starting on the 6th February 2016. Once that is over many of the northern hemisphere’s best will be taking a trip to the south for a series of tests against the best in the south.
Wales, England and Ireland will be playing test series against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa respectively. These are tough tours at the best of times but for most of the players in these squads the season will have started at the beginning of August 2015 and will end towards the end of June 2016. This is a 45 week season at a time when player welfare is, or should be, at the top of World Rugby’s agenda.
For the very lucky ones there is a British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 to also look forward to.
It seems as if we have a surfeit of test rugby in the northern hemisphere so we thought it would be worth looking at the growth of international test rugby over the last 20 calendar years for the 6 Nations teams. These include summer tours and Barbarians fixtures.
Total number of tests played
These figures show the number of tests played between calendar years 1995 and 2015.
Average number of tests played per calendar year
Fixtures per calendar year with added trend line.
There are two aspects to the question, has international rugby reached saturation point? The first relates to player welfare and the load on top players with the dual demands of test and club/regional rugby. With long summer and Lions tours are the top northern hemisphere players being pushed oo hard and for too long during the season?
The second issue is related to the impact on clubs and regions of having their players on international duty for long periods of the season. With more international tests being played, and the related release periods for training, this naturally means less time with their clubs or regions.
This will undoubtedly impact their on-field performances and with it we are seeing increasing friction between the clubs/regions and the respective regions.
If rugby is to continue to grow from a commercial perspective the opportunities are now at the domestic level of rugby and not at international level. This is a little room for further expansion at the international level without all out war with the clubs and regions.
Unions need to recognise this and work with the domestic organisations to come to a position that suits all parties, otherwise rugby will be heading towards a schism that will fundamentally change the structure and organisation of the game.
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