Power to the players?
Bok captain Jean de Villiers gave us his views on the proposed revisions to the international schedule and the role of players in the negotiations.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers gave us his thoughts on the proposed revisions to the international rugby schedule and the role of players in the negotiations.
Every year we are told that there is too much rugby being played, and every year the number of matches seems to increase along with the injury count, whilst more and more players are choosing to head to Japan and Europe to cash in before they burn out.
A few top All Blacks such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith have opted to take tactical sabbaticals in a bid to prolong their careers, but that is not a viable solution for the average player and calls for a complete overhaul of the rugby calendar are growing louder.
There are a number of obstacles to this idea as the northern and southern hemisphere seasons would have to be consolidated in a way that suits the individual rugby boards, domestic competitions, players and fans.
All of this hinges on the major broadcast contracts which are set to expire at the end of the 2015 season, and with that in mind there are some critical negotiations between the various stakeholders coming up in the next few months.
The South African Players Association (SARPA) canvassed the opinions of the Springboks at a recent training camp in Durban and sent them a number of options via email from which they received extensive feedback.
They will take the players' opinions and suggestions to a meeting of the International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) on the Gold Coast in Australia later this month, ahead of IRPA's crucial meeting with the IRB in mid-July.
De Villiers is a classic example of a player who is taking strain under the current schedule, having played every single Super Rugby match this season and now in doubt for the first Test of the year against Italy on Saturday with a hamstring niggle.
He told this website in an exclusive interview that although he will probably not be around when the new broadcast contracts come into effect in 2016, there is a strong feeling among the players that things need to change.
"That is probably only looking at the 2016 season, so I don't know if I will still be around then, but I think it is something that they need to look at.
"Player welfare is very important and the rate we are going at at the moment and the amount of injuries that we currently have in the whole competition - the warning signs are there.
"It is something that they need to look at and hopefully they can sort it out by sitting down with the IRB to discuss these type of things and hopefully come to a good resolve that everyone is happy with," he explained.
Although similar concerns were raised at an IRB meeting in Ireland in 2007, there were no real resolutions reached.
"It is something that we have sort of discussed in the past, and I think it is always an issue to get everyone together to have their views," said De Villiers.
However, there seems to be a stronger feeling of urgency this time around with the drastic option of a player strike something that has already been raised in the international media.
The Bok skipper said that although a strike is the last thing that anybody would like, it may be an extreme last resort if the welfare of the players is not considered carefully enough.
"For us as players it is important that they do listen to us because those are essentially the guys that run the brand and puts it out there so I am sure they will listen.
"I think this time around there will be a much harder stance from the players association, and if they can just get something that is sort of viable and that everyone can benefit from and take the game forward then I can't see why they won't look at it.
"You never want to take it that far, but sometimes if a situation needs something like that then you need to take drastic steps like that. I definitely hope that it won't go that far, and if everyone can sit around a table and resolve these types of things then it is great for the sport and everyone involved," he added.
Whilst this is an extremely complicated matter which will require compromises from all involved, it does appear inevitable that there will have to be serious revisions to the way that global rugby is structured, with the next few months set to be a vital period in shaping the next phase of the professional game.
By Michael de Vries