Scotland chief Mark Dodson sees ‘meaningful, more relevant’ games in new rugby calendar

World Rugby seeks new format for October-November international window

Scotland’s Zander Fagerson in action during the Test match against Australia in Sydney in June 2017. Picture: Getty.
Scotland’s Zander Fagerson in action during the Test match against Australia in Sydney in June 2017. Picture: Getty.

The Scottish Rugby Union entered what has been described as a “once-in-a-generation” meeting of the world’s governing body to discuss the future of the international game’s global calendar with an open mind.

The question of the northern and southern hemispheres aligning themselves has been rumbling for years now and late last year the Six Nations opened preliminary talks aimed at securing the biggest television deal in rugby history with the investment firm CVC which was said to be around £750 million over five years.

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It would have meant the end of terrestrial TV rights to the world’s oldest and most famous championship and a reshaping of the calendar in which a “Nations League” would come at the back end of the year rather than the traditional three autumn international Tests.

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, pictured, represented Scotland in the remote conference held by the Dublin-based World Rugby and told Scottish rugby media: “The proposed [new] October-November window will allow meaningful competition to take place. Whether that’s a Nations Cup or Nations tournament, I’m still not clear about what will happen, but I think you’ll find some sort of competition will take place during that window and the game will be all the better for it.”

One stumbling point in why the deal with CVC, who have since invested in both the English Premiership and Guinness Pro14, was the prospect of a possible promotion/relegation scenario in the Six Nations with a tier 2 European league.

Dodson accepts that the current coronavirus crisis has focused minds on coming up with new solutions and may be an event which provides the catalyst for finally solving an issue which has rumbled on for years now.

“You’ll find the games will be meaningful, be relevant, and I think you’ll find they’ll be attractive in terms of travel for the players, less travel, and I think they’ll also play well for commercial opportunities that will be fairly irresistible,” said the SRU chief of a rough sketch which would mean an end to the traditional summer tours of northern hemisphere teams to the south.

“If we all stay calm and keep moving forward. I’ve been in so many of these conversations over the last ten years and it’s very easy to see stuff go off the table.

“This time is different, there is a collective view, there seems to be more ambition and there seems to be more patience with each other. But I’d also like to say it’s most important that we include the clubs in this conversation. We can’t do a global season without making sure that the English and the French clubs find it something they can live with, the unions are happy and the leagues as well.”

Changes could mean the Six Nations being moved back from its traditional February-March timeslot and changes to the northern club season. The game’s players were represented in the meeting by International Rugby Players (IRP) board member Brian O’Driscoll, the legendary former Ireland and Lions captain and centre.

Dodson added: “We spent a long time on the last call talking about components, but that’s one of the big things, there’s so many components involved, I think there will be a massive change in the game, and we’re so close to establishing a proper conversation.

“From where I sit, one of the things that would make it more attractive to [sponsors] is having more meaningful games at every time of year. I’d suggest it’s more attractive now.”

Dodson has more pressing concerns at the moment, of course, in terms of getting rugby back up and functioning when safe to do so in the current climate. He is optimistic, though, that the current crisis, while deeply regrettable, could be the spark which prompts a decisive move towards change in the world game.

“I’m more encouraged than I’ve ever been in the time I’ve been in the game about the level of optimism around the global calendar. From my point of view, we’re very happy with summer rugby. We think it’s good for participation at grassroots level. The most crucial thing about this is the global alignment not only releases revenue opportunities, it works for everyone.

“From where I sit there’s more co-operation than ever before and people are looking to make sure the emerging nations are catered for and we’re working closely with SANZAAR [South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina] and that has been the real bonus of where we are after the last 11-12 weeks.”

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies described the meeting of the world’s governing bodies as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity.

“Everybody’s on the same page wanting to see this crisis lead to an opportunity to try to solve some of the conundrums that have been around for the past 25 years,” he told the BBC.

“The three major issues in the game are the north-south divide, the club v country divide and dealing with developing the whole game.

“It’s about solving a worldwide solution. We need to develop the world game.

“And I think it’s within our grasp at the moment, but there has to be compromise all round.”

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