Ian Ritchie fully behind condensed Six Nations Championship as part of new global season

Gavin Mairs
Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Ian RItchie - Action Images via Reuters

Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union chief executive, has backed plans to condense the Six Nations Championship from seven to six weeks as part of the new global season.

Ritchie outlined the RFU’s support for the proposed change for the first time yesterday, claiming it would improve the championship, despite concerns about the impact a shortened tournament would have on player welfare.

Negotiations are continuing about the format of the Six Nations when the new global season comes into effect in the 2019-20 season but Ritchie said the RFU had made its position clear.

“We believe it is perfectly right to have a six-week competition as opposed to a seven-week one,” he said. “We think it would improve it. It would narrow the off-periods, help with the broader narrative. We think it is a good route.”

Several players have raised concerns about the potential impact of a shortened championship, while last week the Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt, said a condensed tournament could adversely affect countries who do not have the depth of playing resources enjoyed by England and France.

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Ritchie admitted that he had not discussed the proposed change directly with the England squad but insisted provision would be made for player welfare.

As for concerns about the impact the introduction of a 10-month domestic season will have on England’s leading players in the new global season – which will run from September to the end of June – Ritchie claimed that there would be in-built “mandatory and obligatory” rest periods.

“If you look at Premiership Rugby and domestic rugby, 90 plus per cent of them are not playing international rugby, so whatever happens with the international calendar does not affect the vast majority of players,” Ritchie said.

“You need to make sure that you have appropriate rest periods for those players and then that is back to how does it work and it becomes increasingly almost on an individual basis more than anything else.

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“Some players who played in the game on Saturday [against Ireland] for injury reasons actually haven’t played that much. And there is a clear proviso in all the arrangements that we have to give them a rest so it is not just the way the season works that matters. It is where you give them a rest, how much do they get and when is it. And it doesn’t always need to be in one block.”

Ritchie said the Six Nations should conduct a review amid calls for promotion and relegation to be introduced in the wake of the rise of Georgia and Italy’s poor form, but insisted there should be no “knee-jerk” reaction.

“All of the decisions, whether it is additions, changes, promotion, relegation, these things are significant long-term changes so even if you look at any of this, you do it with the regard that this has to be a long-term change,” he said.

The RFU will also conduct an internal review about the opening times of the bars at Twickenham following criticism by supporters about the number of people standing up and leaving their seats to get drinks during matches.

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