Irish players reject shortened Six Nations
Rory Best has warned of the dangers of a shortened Six Nations window after Irish rugby players emphatically rejected mooted plans to take the rest weeks out of the current schedule from 2020.
Ninety-three per cent of members polled by Rugby Players Ireland said they wanted the status quo to continue when the global season is introduced after the RFU and the English Premiership both floated the idea of reducing the window from seven to five or six weeks.
Currently, Europe's marquee tournament features a block of two games followed by a rest week. A third match followed by another rest week and finishes with a final block of two games.
The English proposal would see the Six Nations drop the fallow weeks in order to give more games back to the club season.
"The intensity of the Six Nations is like no other competition I have ever played in," Ireland captain Best, who has played in 12 Championships, said.
"If it were to take place over a five- or six-week period, players who pick up niggles would struggle to return while those who take to the field every week would be fatigued to such an extent that it would undoubtedly impact on their involvement with their clubs once the tournament finishes.
"With the introduction of the bonus-point system, every game counts more than ever before."
"While we now have plenty of guys who can play their part, the bonus-point system dictates that every game counts more than ever before," Best continued.
"As one of the best-supported competitions in the rugby calendar, every paying fan will expect to see the strongest sides week-in, week-out.
"It is important that the integrity of the Six Nations, from a spectator's perspective, remains intact as far as possible."
The players body surveyed their entire 253 members and the professionals came back with an emphatic response.
Rugby Players Ireland chief executive Simon Keogh, himself a former pro, believes that any change would be detrimental to player welfare and would not be welcome.
"What's good about the Six Nations at the moment is that it gives a sufficient amount of rest to the guys in between a few of the games and allows them to recover," he told the Irish Independent.
"When I spoke to one player, he said if you receive an injury at the start of the proposed five-week model then there's the potential that you won't play at all whereas with those extra few weeks there's enough time to recover and even get a practice game in between to get yourself back to international level.
"The new proposal to reduce it doesn't allow for that, doesn't allow sufficient recovery for guys to get back in.
"We want to have the best guys on the field, a best-v-best scenario.
"If you reduce it, you're working contrary to that ideology and you won't get the same quality on the field because guys get injured and won't have time to recover.
"They're very intense games.
"We met the guys in the Shelbourne Hotel during the Six Nations the day after the France game and they were very, very tired; and that was after a rest week."
Meanwhile, Mike Ross and Ian Madigan have been included in the Barbarians squad for their end-of-season games against England and Ulster.
Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter will take charge of the club side and the ex-Leinster duo will join an all-star 27-man cast for the fixtures on Sunday in Twickenham and next Thursday in Belfast.
The games will mark the end of Ross's career as he prepares to retire after a glittering era with Leinster and Ireland, while Madigan is moving to Bristol this summer.
Barbarians squad - Backs: Horacio Agulla, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Yann David, Kahn Fotuali'i, Robbie Freuan, Rory Kockott, Ian Madigan, Timoci Nagusa, Waisea Nayacalavu, Ruan Pienaar, David Smith, Frans Steyn.
Forwards: Patricio Albacete, Steffon Armitage, Schalk Brits, Thierry Dusautoir, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Gillian Galan, Richard Hibbard, Facundo Isa, Census Johnston, Mikheil Nariashvili, WP Nel, Mike Ross, Joe Tekori, Jeremy Thrush.