Rugby fixture talks fail to make progress after 'frank' exchange

by Julian GUYER
Super Rugby returned in New Zealand over the weekend, but the global calendar is proving tougher to reboot

Talks on the thorny issue of how to organise the international calendar as rugby resumes broke up without a decision on Monday after a "frank" exchange of views, World Rugby said.

The governing body of the world game said there would be further discussions before a planned vote on June 30.

Monday's statement following a meeting of the World Rugby professional game forum stressed that it was "not a decision-making forum".

The sport had been in lockdown since March because of the coronavirus until New Zealand's in-house Super Rugby tournament started last weekend.

But the European season has yet to get going again and, with several 2020 Six Nations matches still to take place, elite players face the prospect of a fixture pile-up later this year.

World Rugby's statement said the hoped for outcome of the talks was an "adjusted" Test window from October "that will enable postponed and other international matches to be played whilst enabling the completion of existing club competitions".

Monday's meeting included representatives of the Six Nations, the southern hemisphere's SANZAAR, major national leagues including England's Premiership and France's Top 14, European Professional Club Rugby, 12 leading countries, the International Rugby Players and the British and Irish Lions.

In May, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said plans to align fixtures in the northern and southern hemispheres were underway and that long-standing issue was discussed on Monday.

World Rugby also said that its Regulation 9, which covers when clubs must release players for internationals, was also discussed.

That seems to have upset the French and English leagues.

In a statement sent to AFP the French league (LNR) and the English Premiership said "they regretted during the meeting being presented with a fait accompli without prior consultation".

They added that the negotiations "must meet the challenges of world rugby without sacrificing professional rugby".

The two leagues said they were "opposed to a hasty modification of Regulation 9" but were open to discussions "to increase the number of international matches from 2020 and in response to the exceptional COVID-19 situation".

World Rugby said all parties recognised the need for a "compromise solution".

"The final decision on 2020 will be confirmed by vote of the World Rugby council on 30 June following consideration and recommendation by the World Rugby executive committee.

"All stakeholders believe that meaningful reform of the international calendar is necessary in a much-changed post COVID-19 environment to revitalise the global game."

It added that, "if managed appropriately", a proposed long-term calendar would provide enhanced rest periods for players, give emerging nations more high-quality matches, and allow for the development of a global women's fixture programme that does not overlap with men's competitions.

Super Rugby returned in New Zealand over the weekend, but the global calendar is proving tougher to reboot