Premier Rugby is considering radical plans to invite South African Currie Cup teams to play in a revamped knockout cup competition from 2020 when the new global season comes into existence.
The clubs are also exploring initiatives to stage a joint eight-team northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere event every four years in a neutral venue such as Dubai or Singapore when the four top sides from each hemisphere, European Champions versus Super Rugby champions, Premiership and Pro 12 champions, might face-off against their counterparts from south of the equator in a single weekend jamboree of rugby.
Discussions are only at a formative stage but there is a desire to fill the fallow weekends left vacant by the restructuring of the global season which will see club rugby played until the end of June and international tours taking place in July. Premier Rugby was intent on making sure that its club competition no longer took place during the November and Six Nations windows so that their best club players would be available.
But the other club non-Test players could now be involved in a more broad-based tournament than, for example, an Anglo-Welsh cup, and one that might involve South African provincial sides.
Players, though, have reacted with concern to the notion that the club season will run from September to June but Premier Rugby chief executive, Mark McCafferty, moved to dispel fears that this would impact on player welfare, with the likes of Northampton lock and leading figure in the Rugby Players’ Association, Christian Day, sounding alarm bells about strike action, by insisting that the new format will actually enhance the player experience by the establishment of individual player programmes.
“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all arrangement as the majority of our players in the Premiership only operate within the club structure which has a different workload to the Test arena,” said McCafferty. “By having more clarity and with far fewer overlaps with the international game, we can work out playing programmes to suit everyone.
"For a Test player, the demands are very different to a club player. We recognise that. The clubs don’t want to put their prime assets at risk. Why would they? There is a lot of detail to go into these projects yet. There will be mid-season breaks perhaps. We really do believe that there is an appetite for the September-June calendar. We are convinced that there will be a good outcome for everyone."
McCafferty has no concerns that the extension of the winter into summer parameters will impact negatively on Premier Rugby when its blue riband finale is set against the likes of Test cricket and Wimbledon.
“We are already up against the biggest 800lb gorilla in the park in Premier League football and having the final stages of our competition in June will mean that we are not competing against domestic football,” said McCafferty who also insisted that there was no need to abandon its four team play-off format in favour of a traditional first-past-the post winner now that clubs will not be deprived of their international players for long stretches.
“We still feel that the competition needs its big day in the Twickenham sun so that won’t be changing. It works very well for us.”
The restructured season will also reduce the number of matches played on a Lions tour, from 10 to eight or even fewer. Warren Gatland’s squad will not leave for New Zealand until after the Premier Rugby (and Pro12) final on May 27th with their first game seven days later.
“We have not been happy with the intensity of the Lions schedule which does need to change but it is up to them how many matches they want to play,” said McCafferty. “The date of our final has not changed.”