A reported plan from England’s top clubs to reduce the Six Nations to five back-to-back weekends is likely to be met with fierce resistance from proponents of player welfare.
The tournament’s committee is to consider a proposal by the Aviva Premiership to remove the two fallow weekends, thereby freeing up space at the business end of their domestic and European season. A potential start time for the new format has yet to be discussed and any change would align with the beginning of the new global season in 2020, with a proposal to be submitted at next weekend’s World Rugby summit in San Francisco to discuss the new calendar.
The SRU won’t take an official stance on the matter until it has been digested and discussed at Council level and by the Six Nations Committee, which will make the ultimate decision, but given its duty of care to international players it is difficult to imagine any enthusiasm.
At Wednesday’s launch of this year’s tournament in London, Scotland coach Vern Cotter spoke strongly about how tough a competition it is and the brutality had been an eye opener for him in his first season.
The Kiwi swiftly realised that strength in depth had to be cultivated to combat the attritional nature of playing five demanding Test matches in a compact period – and that is with two rest weekends providing a measure of respite.
With suggestions that the three-Test Lions series represents potentially excessive demands on the players, the idea of five successive Six Nations weekends is likely to provoke even deeper concerns.
The English clubs are likely to couch the proposal in the wider context of the global calendar, which is expected to include the phasing out of summer tours and reducing the number of Test matches played in a year.
Should the proposal be approved, it would represent the biggest change to the Six Nations since Italy were admitted in 2000.
Meanwhile, the Six Nations will seek a new sponsor with global reach when RBS’s association with the tournament ends after 14 years come the end of this year’s staging.
“We want a sponsor who is actively engaged not just in Britain, but around the world. We see potential in markets like the USA. We want a brand to align with that,” said the Six Nations chief executive John Feehan.
“The Six Nations is the biggest sponsorship in world rugby by a country mile. We’ve been in contact with well over 150 companies and we’re in a very good place.
“It will probably be another six months until we have a decision. Being the highest bidder ticks a huge amount of boxes but it’s not all about that.”