Thursday 25 April 2019

Sexton leads player outcry as plan for 'nations league' comes under fire

Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

World rugby may be forced to revisit plans for a nations league-style tournament after leading players came out strongly against the rumoured framework.

Discussions over the future direction of the international game have been ongoing for months, with the governing body pushing for an annual tournament that would see the elite nations compete for the right to be called the world's best.

International Rugby Players, the global umbrella union for professional players, came out strongly against the plan in a hard-hitting statement that included quotes from Johnny Sexton who described the plans as "out of touch".

Their concern centres around player welfare and the notion that teams would play five Tests in consecutive weeks in November every season with a semi-final and final after three games between northern and southern hemisphere opposition.

"It seems like a commercial deal on the future of the game is being negotiated at a rapid pace with little consideration given to the points we raised with World Rugby in November," Sexton said.

Strain

"The issue of player-load has never been so topical. However, it needs to be properly understood. To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level Test matches in consecutive weeks in November is out of touch and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings."

Reports surfaced in New Zealand yesterday morning outlining plans to ring-fence the 12 competing nations for 12 years, with Japan and the United States joining a six-team Rugby Championship from 2020.

A television deal is reportedly already in place with each union being guaranteed €8m a year.

However, the news that the Pacific nations and European teams like Georgia could be locked out of the elite game for more than a decade received a backlash yesterday. World Rugby insisted the players' statement was "surprising" and based on inaccurate assumptions, but comments by Agustin Pichot - the body's vice-chairman - on Twitter appeared to suggest he was at odds with the way the concept was moving.

It is believed that the Six Nations' reluctance to introduce promotion and relegation to their tournament is a major sticking point in the battle for a more inclusive game given the risks to the bottom lines of each union. A spokesman for the IRFU said the Irish union would "always prioritise player welfare".

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