World 12s will spark confrontations and problems, warns leading rugby coach

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has voiced his concerns after plans were announced for a new World 12s competition.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg is likely to be in high demand if plans for the World 12s come to fruition. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg is likely to be in high demand if plans for the World 12s come to fruition. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

World Rugby and the Gallagher Premiership have issued lukewarm responses to a tournament that is being positioned as rugby’s equivalent to cricket’s Indian Premier League and The Hundred.

Organisers intend for 192 men’s players from tier-one and tier-two nations to be picked via auction to represent eight franchises consisting of squads of 24 who will be overseen by established coaches.

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The format will consist of round-robin games before a knockout phase determines the winners.

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter foresees problems with player release for the proposed World 12s. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The inaugural men’s World 12s is planned for England next August and September, with a women’s event launching a year later.

But the biggest problem it faces is player release. Clubs and provinces in European leagues are unlikely to allow their stars to take part during a time of year when they are either on holiday or in pre-season.

And the chances of New Zealand, Australia or South Africa international players being involved are minimal because of the Rugby Championship being held at the same time.

“I had a bit of a wry smile to myself, shook my head and went ‘here we go again’ kind of thing,” said Baxter, whose Exeter squad includes Scotland internationals Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. Hogg in particular would likely be in high demand if the World 12s plan comes to fruition.

The proposed World 12s is borrowing heavily from cricket's Indian Premier League concept where players are sold to franchises at high-profile auctions.

“The biggest thing that bothers me when these proposals are thrown around, and I don’t mind saying it, is player discontent.

“Straight away, from a managerial point of view, if this goes ahead what’s the outcome going to be?

“It’s basically going to be players put in the middle – they are going to be the jam in the sandwich again between clubs and unions.

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“These people (tournament organisers) are going to offer, I am assuming, quite a lot of money to try and attract them to play, and the player is going to turn around and he is going to have to ask to be released from contractual obligations. That was the first thing I thought.

“How does it fit into any player’s contract, because most of them will be under contract for 12 months of the year, and it doesn’t fit into that without player release.

“I think there are going to be a lot of confrontational meetings and problems before I can see it even getting off the ground.”

Organisers say equal prize money will be offered for both competitions, and the expectation is that the World 12s will be staged in different global destinations. It is hoped that £250 million will be generated over the next five years.

Each team will consist of six backs and six forwards, with matches lasting 30 minutes, and the competition will take part over three successive weekends.

World Rugby, though, has questioned how it will fit within the new global calendar which is currently being drawn up, and Premiership Rugby said it “can only be considered in the broader context of player welfare and the already congested global calendar”.

Baxter thinks the comparisons to cricket’s IPL and The Hundred are wide of the mark, adding: “Rugby is a different game to other sports. I can see how it works at certain times with cricket and I can understand the attraction.

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“What people need to understand is what are you creating?

“You can come to a game of rugby and spend two or three hours at a game and have a thoroughly good time and be thoroughly entertained by it, whereas in cricket to partake in a game previously you had to be there for a day.

“I see why short-form works in cricket because you change the whole watching environment – you go for an evening out – but that doesn’t need to change in rugby, so I don’t know what the change in audience is going to be.

“Personally, I don’t think it is going to be quite as attractive as people think it is going to be.”

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