Revealed: How the global calendar shake-up will have a huge impact on the English domestic game

Gavin Mairs
The Telegraph
England could tour the Pacific Islands for the first time - PA Wire
England could tour the Pacific Islands for the first time - PA Wire

The historic agreement over the new global season after 2019 means the English game will experience “the biggest change to the domestic club rugby since the inception of the Premiership”, it has been claimed.

The Daily Telegraphexclusively revealed on Wednesday that World Rugby had agreed a framework for the global calendar following the World Cup in Japan, including switching the June international window to July and bringing the November window forward by one week.

On Thursday World Rugby confirmed those details, which will also bring a 39 per cent increase in the number of Tests between tier one and tier two nations, including the prospect of England touring the Pacific Islands for the first time.

It is also understood that the Six Nations Championship will not move from its February and March slot but will be reduced from seven to six weeks by removing one of the fallow weekends, although this has yet to be formally ratified ahead of the World Rugby Council meeting in May.

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Future Lions tours after this summer’s tour to New Zealand are also to be reduced from 10 to eight weeks – following the global season discussions in San Francisco in January – as revealed by The Telegraph last month.

The new agreement, which will begin in the 2019/2020 season and run to 2032, will also lead to a major overhaul of England’s domestic season, with Mark McCafferty, the Premiership Rugby chief executive, hailing it as the biggest change to the club game since the Premiership was established in 1997.

McCafferty revealed that the new international window in July, when the home unions tour the southern hemisphere, will enable the Premiership final, which is normally held in the last weekend in May, to move to the last weekend in June – with a two-week rest period guaranteed before England play their first tour match.

Premiership Rugby, however, intends to retain its traditional start to its tournament in the first weekend of September and the new nine-month domestic season will ensure that the league will no longer overlap with either England’s November Test series or the Six Nations Championship.

That will ensure that England’s top internationals will be able to feature more often for their club sides in the Premiership, although the number of games they will be allowed to play will not change from the limit of 32 as agreed between the Rugby Football Union and the clubs.

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It is also likely to lead to more games being played in more clement weather conditions, with 15 club matches, including the knockout stages of the Champions and Challenge Cups, set to be played after the end of the Six Nations in March.

“This is the biggest change to English club rugby since the inception of the Premiership,” said McCafferty. “It gives us the ability now to reduce the overlaps significantly from 2020 onwards to give the clubs more ability to manage their competitions and grow their competitions alongside the international game without the two competing quite so much for the services of players. I think it will usher in more advance processes towards individual management of the international players because we are removing Premiership fixtures from international periods and extending the season to June.

“Rather than having the players missing en masse we can manage it through the season, which is good for them and good for our competition.

Lions tour to New Zealand 2017 - fixtures

“It gives us the ability to have a very strong Premiership Rugby competition all through the year and manage the squad rotation along the way.”

The overhaul will also mean the Anglo-Welsh competition is expanded, possibly to include sides from Ireland and Scotland, as a development tournament to bring through the next generation of talent to fill the gaps left by the removal of Premiership games during the Test match weekends.

Currently there are two Premiership rounds in the November window and four during the Six Nations.

Discussions are ongoing about the dates for the European Champions and Challenge Cup competitions although it is likely that the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will be pushed back by a week from their current slots in April and May to give the international players more time to prepare following the Six Nations Championship.

It is certain also that Champions Cup games will also not immediately follow the November Test matches.

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The changes will be in place by the start of the 2019/2020 season, with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union set to meet over the coming weeks to agree the fine detail of the domestic fixture schedule.

The World Rugby agreement also means the World Cup window is cemented within the calendar, kicking off one week earlier in the second week of September after Japan.

Tier two nations will also be integrated into the July and November windows.

Home union tours to the southern hemisphere immediately in a World Cup season will also be reduced to two matches for player welfare seasons.

“Agreement on an optimised global calendar that provides certainty and sustainability over the decade beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 represents an historic milestone for the global game,” said Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman.

“But more than that, this agreement has player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans.”

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