The Rugby Players’ Association wants to implement a combined 14-week break and preseason to protect its members from the growing demands of the game.
Next month is shaping up to be a pivotal month in negotiations over the new global calender, with the RPA meeting on Nov. 6 to hammer out its position before the Professional Game Board convenes three weeks later to discuss all proposals.
Premiership Rugby stated in March that the new domestic schedule would run from September to June and international tours would be pushed back to July, creating a strongly-opposed 11-month season for England stars.
Damian Hopley, the RPA’s chief executive, has been visiting Premiership clubs to take a “temperature check of where everything is at”.
He insists the threat of strike action raised by England stars Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler and former RFU director of professional rugby Rob Andrew, while unlikely, is an option.
Although a combined 14 weeks is similar to what is currently in place over the summer months, it would appear to scupper Premiership Rugby Limited’s ambition of introducing a September to June calendar for the league.
“You have to start with the optimal form for the off-season in terms of rest and recuperation and to prepare players for the next campaign,” Hopley said.
“Our members are saying that 14 weeks is what they believe is right — five weeks away from the club and then nine weeks to prepare for the new campaign, with preseason games within that.
“There has to be a five week, ring-fenced break. That isn’t going anywhere.
“We believe that if you get the playing structure correct, commercial success will follow. At the moment there is just too much rugby being played.
“Of course players going on strike is possible — as the players union we must respond to what the players want to do. It is the ultimate sanction and players really don’t want to alienate the fans, who are fantastic.”
Among the options to be discussed by the players’ board at Twickenham on Nov. 6 – a meeting Hopley predicts will be “very interesting” — is England and Saracens No. 8 Vunipola’s suggestion of a reduction in income in order to player fewer games.
“Billy Vunipola, who has had three surgeries over the last year, has said he’d take a pay cut to play less… well maybe that’s the £64 million dollar question we must ask players. It’s a question we’ll ask on Nov. 6,” Hopley said.
“A player would rather have a 10-year career in a sustainable and viable sport than a four-year career because the sport goes bust.”
The RFU has compiled data showing that law tweaks to the tackle and ruck being trialled in the northern hemisphere could be contributing to the number of injuries currently evident in the Aviva Premiership due to an increase in collisions.
“New laws have been brought in to speed the game up and our players are almost the guinea pigs who are having to live through the impact of the new laws,” Hopley said.