Later starts and finishes to the European leagues, a possible world club championship and a reduction in summer tours appear to be the main changes to the world rugby calendar which could come into place following the 2019 World Cup.
According to reports, rugby authorities are set to vote on a new arrangement which will bring the northern and southern hemisphere seasons more aligned, if not quite reaching the “global season” advocated by some.
There will be fewer international matches, with summer tours set to be significantly reduced.
The Six Nations, it is understood, will not move from its traditional February to March slot after rumours that it may be shifted to March-April.
The British and Irish Lions series and the World Cup will retain their set places in the calendar, with the Lions set to tour South Africa in July and August in 2021.
The Guinness Pro12, Aviva Premiership and French Top 14 are being proposed to start in October, with a finish at the end of June, which would bring them into sync with Super Rugby. That could open up the possibility of a World Club Cup in the summer following a RWC, which will not include any tours by northern nations to the southern hemisphere.
Scottish Rugby won’t comment ahead of the World Rugby Council vote on the matter in November but there doesn’t appear anything in the proposals that would be bones of contention at BT Murrayfield. The SRU is engaged in the discussion phase through the likes of chief executive Mark Dodson, chief operating officer Dominic McKay, who is on the Pro12 and EPCR boards, and World Rugby council member John Jeffrey.
The main change would be the loss to the southern hemisphere of tours in the northern summer. Warm-up Tests are played before a World Cup and no tours would take place the following summer for player welfare. With the later European club season finishes meaning any summer Tests in other years would come in July, and moves to have more games between developing and tier-one nations, it looks like the days of regular multi-Test series between northern and southern nations could be over. The SANZAAR countries may view the emergence of a World Club Cup as more than ample compensation for this.
A World Rugby spokesperson said: “Discussions are positive, strong momentum is being generated and all stakeholders are focused on delivering a calendar that is to the benefit of the whole game by the end of the year.”
England head coach Eddie Jones told the BBC: “We [the RFU] have had a number of discussions and obviously there are certain views we think are right for world rugby. I don’t think there are ever going to be massive changes in the schedule.
“Things are locked in by tradition, rightfully, so I think there are some cosmetic changes that can be made to make the yearly schedule better for the players and better for the northern and southern hemisphere.”
It had been expected that the Lions tour would retain its every four years slot in the calendar. There has been criticism of next year’s gruelling schedule in New Zealand and some talk the British and Irish select side may have had its day, but in Edinburgh last week, Lions chief executive John Feehan said: “We need to accommodate the Lions, it’s one of the biggest brands in world rugby.
“Our game would be much poorer if the Lions don’t exist in a meaningful way. Is it perfect at the moment? No it’s not. Will it be perfect in the future? Probably not. But can we accommodate it? Yes we can. All of rugby is tugging in different directions, but I am absolutely confident the Lions will be part of the structure.
“It’s important to us in Britain and Ireland, but for the host unions themselves, it’s absolute necessity for them. This Lions tour next year is already sold out.”