Test rugby – saturation point? The growth in test rugby 1995-2015

For those of a certain age a fixture against one of the big southern hemisphere teams used to be a special occasion. The All Blacks or Aussies used to turn up on our shores once in a while and it gave our team a shot at taking down a big animal – who knew when we would have the chance to do it again.

In today’s professional world, the opposite is true; it seems as if we have fixtures against the SANZAR nations once a month. What used to be a unique event is now in danger of becoming mundane.

Wales will take on Australia in Cardiff this Autumn, but how many times has this fixture been played in recent times? The figures below show the number of Wales-Australia fixtures over recent decades (including this Autumn’s fixture):

1960s – 2

1970s – 4

1980s – 3

1990s – 7

2000s – 9

2010s – 11

We are only 6 years through this decade so we are on course for a bumper decade of Wales – Australia fixtures!

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.

Wales      252

France     251

England   238

Ireland     226

Scotland  219

Italy         218


Average number of tests played per calendar year

Wales       12.6

France      12.55

England    11.9

Ireland      11.3

Scotland   10.95

Italy          10.9



Fixtures per calendar year with added trend line.



Wales fixtures


France fixtures


England fixtures


Ireland fixtures


Scotland fixtures





Saturation point?

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 too 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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