Why an aligned global calendar will do rugby the world of good

The world’s top 10 international teams are coming together to create a significant change to rugby following the halt of play dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.

With COVID-19 proving hugely damaging to the sport, especially financially, the Six Nations and SANZAAR teams released a joint statement last week outlining their plans to create an aligned global rugby calendar.

The main objective is to relegate self-interest in the game to boost both the domestic and international aspect of rugby, as discussed in the statement:

“The Nations have adopted a mindset that has sought to eliminate self-interest and recognise that the international and club game have shared mutual benefits that if approached and managed correctly can enable both to flourish.

A further consultation process, in total transparency with unions, clubs and players, will commence as all parties work towards an aligned global calendar that can deliver a clear and coherent narrative.”

You may be wondering, ‘what does an aligned global calendar actually mean?’

Currently, the northern hemisphere’s Six Nations Championship and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship both overlap the European club season. The aim is for the two championships to be played at the same time in a dedicated international period, therefore aligning both hemispheres to play international games at the same time.

This is an encouraging step in the right direction for rugby and it is excellent to see welcome signs of positivity for the game amidst the challenges of the coronavirus-imposed lockdown.

According to last week's release, “The Nations, together with other key stakeholders, remain open to shape the options that have been developed in an effort to resolve an issue that has held the game back for many years and are committed to putting rugby on a progressive path.”

The Six Nations typically begins on the first weekend in February and lasts for six weeks, coming to a finale on the second or third Saturday of March and the Rugby Championship lasts for a similar time period but finishes in early October, a month after the European season begins.

This has long created friction between club and country as in the 2020 tournament 34 of Europe’s top 40 clubs lost at least one player to international duty. The Pro14, in particular, gets decimated year in year out with 128 players being called up to national squads for this 2020’s tournament, compared to the Premiership’s 58 and the Top14’s 44.

This can be incredibly frustrating as it is always the best players that the clubs are missing out on for such a large portion of the season.

Many teams lost several top-class players, but Leinster were the side to suffer most as they saw an enormous 18 members of their first-team squad leave to play internationally at the Six Nations.

Not only does the current calendar have a detrimental impact on the teams in regard to their players, but it also causes their attendance figures to plummet.

In 2019, the Pro14 saw their average attendance fall by 15% on international weeks compared to regular game weeks, whereas the Premiership fares slightly better but still sees a decline, nonetheless, of around 7-10%.

Taking this information into account it is clear to see why a globally aligned calendar is being proposed as it can only have a positive impact on rugby.

Domestic league attendances will rise as fans will not have the distraction of international tournaments and they will also get to see their team’s finest players in action for the whole season.

On the other hand, there is actually an interesting argument that the temporary loss of international stars is beneficial to clubs.

It essentially forces them into having strength in depth and more importantly gives young players an opportunity to showcase their talents and breakthrough to the first team whereas if the club’s stars were always available the chances of being selected take a nosedive.

The chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont, has received heavy criticism in recent weeks as some accused him and the “old guard” of rugby of not being progressive enough. However, he has endorsed the Nations and Sanzaar’s plan and with his backing, this change could substantially improve the sport and turn it into a truly world game.

This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk