Rugby’s New Global Calendar – A Damp Squib?

To much fanfare, World Rugby’s (WR) new Global Calendar was released this week – the first major initiative under the direction of WR’s Chairman Bill Beaumont. This calendar covers the period 2020-2032.

To most of us a ‘global calendar’ means a single harmonised season across both hemispheres or at the very least, a solution to the disjointed rugby season that sees us skip from test rugby, to no rugby to European rugby in the space of a few weeks. 

Unfortunately this Global Calendar fails to deliver on both counts; it’s more of a light evolution than the revolution that is required. Indeed most of the major tournaments will have little to no direct discernible changes to them.

We have pulled out the main changes to the season’s structure and looked at their potential implications.

 

(1) The June test window will move to July

What the northern hemisphere calls the end of season tour will now take place in the first 3 weeks of July, rather than the traditional June window. The reason for this is to allow the Super Rugby season to run uninterrupted. 

Implications? This is a good move for those in the south but it has potentially big implications for the north.

In 2016 England, Ireland and Wales all played their first tests in the southern hemisphere on the 11th June. Given the domestic league finals were on the 28th May (Pro 12 – Wales/Ireland and Aviva – England) this gave them  14 days’ preparation.

If we say the first game of the test window will now be on the 1st of July, there will be a whopping 33 days between the domestic league final and the first test match – with those players who aren’t in the final having another week or two added to this total.

This won’t work, so what is likely to happen is the opening game of the domestic leagues (Pro12, Aviva etc) will be pushed back by approximately 3 weeks. Instead of the first fixture being around the 2-5th September we could see this being moved to the end of September or even the start of October.

With European competitions starting in mid-October any movement in the start date of the domestic leagues will lead to disruption to these tournaments. We may see this as an opportunity for more radical changes to the calendar in the northern hemisphere to better align domestic, European and test rugby.

 

(2) The November test window will move forward one week 

The Autumn international test window will now comprise the first 3 weeks of November

Implications? In itself this doesn’t seem like a major change but it will potentially cause some problems in the schedule for domestic and European rugby in the north. 

 

(3) Tier 2 nations to have greater exposure to tier 1 during July and November test windows

Some of the specific initiatives that will contribute to this desire to increase the number of fixtures between tier 1 and tier 2 include:

  • A minimum of 110 tier one v tier two matches over the period (a 39 per cent increase on the previous schedule)
  • SANZAAR Unions committed to hosting tier two nations in July window
  • France and England to tour the Pacific Islands while USA, Canada and Japan will also host tours
  • Georgia and Romania to host matches against Six Nations unions within the July window
  • Six Nations unions to collectively host a guaranteed minimum of six tier two fixtures in each November window
  • Tours to SANZAAR nations immediately after a Rugby World Cup year will be reduced to two matches

Implications? On a positive note, any increase in the exposure tier 2 nations get to tier 1 teams has to be a good thing. Having commitments from the major nations to not just play the tier 2 nations but to take them on in their own back yard, in a step in the right direction.

Caveats apply though. WR has no real authority to mandate that the 6 Nations provide a route for the tier 2 nations to the top European table, and as a result of this, these reported changes still don’t give a clear direction for the tier 2 nations in Europe. The door is still closed.

Although we have greater commitments from the major nations, what we don’t know is what sort of strength team they will send. We may end up with “A” teams in all but name being sent to Bucharest and Tbilisi to satisfy the WR requirement. This is better than the status quo so perhaps it should still be applauded as a move in the right direction.

 

Final Thoughts

The changes do not deal with the fundamental structural problems that blight rugby in both hemispheres, primarily because WR doesn’t have the mandate to force change on the likes of the 6 Nations or European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the custodians of elite European “club” rugby. 

Instead we have some relatively minor changes to the schedule which could cause major issues for the way northern hemisphere rugby is structured across the season. This may force both the domestic European leagues and the European competitions to revamp their schedule, which ultimately may lead to a change to the dates of the 6 Nations.

More change is on the way.

 

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