USA coach Gary Gold has reiterated his stance on a global season and offered a suggestion regarding a potential schedule. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Unions around the world are feeling the financial strain during these extraordinary times. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are projecting losses in the hundreds of millions. Meanwhile, the tier-two nations are on their knees. The USA Rugby union recently filed for bankruptcy.
The Covid-19 outbreak has already had negative impact on the game. And yet, as many rugby people have pointed out in recent weeks, the enforced break may give World Rugby a chance to seriously consider the global season concept.
Imagine an aligned season that will solve player-welfare problems and generate more revenue for all involved. Agustin Pichot has been championing the idea during a campaign for the World Rugby chairman position. Clive Woodward, who won the 2003 World Cup with England and later coached the British & Irish Lions, has endorsed Pichot’s plan. Gold is another who has gone public with his support for one unified season.
Really enjoy the pragmatic, sensible approach taken by @AP9_ This is not campaigning, this has always been his view to get the game back in shape. Gus is a strong leader who is not afraid to make tough calls. Big opportunity for “rugby” to make the right call. https://t.co/T2X05ZBXmP
— Gary Gold (@Garygoldrugby) April 17, 2020
The South African has an intimate understanding about how rugby operates in both hemispheres. Gold has coached in the Super Rugby tournament, English Premiership and Japanese Top League. He’s served as an assistant coach to the Springboks and been at the helm of the USA team since 2018.
Gold managed to return home to be with his family in South Africa before the travel restrictions were imposed last month. Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za, he highlighted the challenges facing the smaller unions before explaining why the game’s structures are in dire need of an overhaul.
‘Every union, whether they are tier one or not, is going to be affected by this crisis,’ he said. ‘It’s going to take a great deal of work for rugby to get back on track in all countries, and one would hope that World Rugby takes an even-handed approach when helping the individual unions.
‘The period that follows the lockdown will be so important,’ he added. ‘It’s important that the unions, whether they are tier one or two, get out of the blocks quickly.’
Gold believes that a structural overhaul is overdue. The big international and regional tournaments in the northern and southern hemispheres need to be aligned. More needs to be done, said the USA coach, to include tier-two nations and boost the development of the game.
‘World Rugby can’t forget about these teams on the periphery,’ he said. ‘They need someone to step up and ensure that they sit at the big table and enjoy the same benefits as the major nations.
‘I’m not suggesting that we take away the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship,’ he stressed. ‘A solution needs to be found, though. The tier-two teams will only get stronger if they are brought into the fold and developed.
‘Maybe this crisis is a chance to press Ctrl, Alt, Delete and start from scratch with regard to the structure of a global season. I don’t think it matters exactly how it’s structured. What’s important is that everyone comes to an agreement and that everyone starts to enjoy the benefits of a global season.’
Pressed for a description of what an aligned global schedule might look like, Gold highlighted the importance of setting time aside every year for rest and conditioning.
‘We need to be mindful of player welfare,’ he said. ‘There has to be a two- or three-month block where there is no competitive rugby being played worldwide. Players won’t be able to fly to Japan during the “off-season” as is the case with some of them now.
‘Ultimately, we won’t have a situation like we do currently, where northern teams are tired by the time they arrive in the south for a Test tour, or where southern Test teams are on their last legs when touring the north in November. Everybody will face the same challenges and everybody will have the chance to rest.’
It may be years before a global season is finally implemented, given the various unions’ commitment to broadcasters and a jam-packed international schedule leading up to the 2023 World Cup. Could 2024 witness a new era, however, with the players beginning the first ever global season with their respective provinces or clubs?
‘The schedule is something that can be tweaked and adjusted to ensure everyone is happy,’ said Gold. ‘Maybe they can start in February with the domestic seasons, such as the Currie Cup, Premiership, Top 14, Top League and so on. Then they can progress to the regional tournaments like Super Rugby and the Champions Cup. From there, they can progress to the internationals and play through to November.
‘Alternatively, the season could start and end with a block of internationals. Players from the north and south can compete across the Six Nations and Rugby Championship at the beginning. Then they can progress into a domestic or regional season. The rest and conditioning period could slot into the middle of the calendar year, and more internationals would follow.
‘Again, I’m not saying this is how it has to work. We need to find a solution, though, where all the teams and players are on the same page with regard to the season.’
Aligning the two seasons could also present the game with new commercial opportunities.
‘The global season has been spoken about for a long time. Another concept that’s been talked about, yet has never materialised due to the challenges around the respective schedules in the north and south, is a super-club clash between, for example, Saracens and the Crusaders.
‘If all the teams are competing at the same time of year, it shouldn’t be an issue to stage a champions of champions game, or even include that as part of a competition,’ Gold said.
‘People have been talking about these fixtures for ages, and about the global season. There’s a demand for it, and I’ve no doubt that it would attract a lot of eyeballs.
‘Think about how the game and all the teams may be served if there is a big investment in a concept like that.’
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