The Rugby Football Union are in favour of reducing the Six Nations championship from seven to six weeks, despite concerns among the current playing squad of the effect that the tightened schedule would have on their bodies.
That was the assertion made by RFU chief executive, Ian Ritchie, after watching England claim a second Six Nations title in as many seasons over the last two months. A number of changes have been mentioned in terms of the Northern Hemisphere’s premier international competition, but while most of those have circulated around the possibility of adding promotion and relegation to get the likes of Georgia and Romania involved, the prospect of a shorter tournament has gone somewhat under the radar.
However, when Six Nations officials meet in the coming weeks, Ritchie made it clear that the RFU will back cutting a week off the duration of the tournament.
“That is a matter that will be discussed by the Six Nations,” Ritchie said. “We believe it is perfectly right to have a six-week competition as opposed to a seven-week one. We think it would improve it.
“It would narrow the off periods, help with the broader narrative. We think it is a good route. It may well be that others agree or disagree.”
One of those who disagrees is the England prop, Joe Marler, who claimed during this year’s tournament that restricting the championship to consecutive weeks would be to the detrimental effect of the players and their health, and he suggested that they are already close to the limit when it comes to the number of matches played each season.
“I get paid to play for my club and my country and they set how many games a year we play. I just get on with it,” Marler said in the week before England’s Grand Slam-dashing defeat by Ireland. “But to play all the Six Nations games in a row would be tough. Five Test matches would be a lot.
“As it is, with the breaks, it is good for the body. We are there or thereabouts the limit of fixtures for the season.
“It is well documented that boys are quicker, bigger strong and the impacts are bigger so it takes longer to recover.”
But Ritchie didn’t share those concerns, nor did he plan on speaking to the players about the situation, as he would liase with head coach Jones to discuss the matter.
“I don't know what you would expect me to say to that. I have spoken to Eddie and others. I don't speak about these things, nor would I expect to speak direct to the players,” Ritchie stated.
He added: “There are all sorts of opportunities as how to deal with player welfare, directors of rugby, all those sorts of things. There is every opportunity to have the discussions about with those involved. I have not sat down with any player to discuss it. You discuss it with the coaching team. That is the mechanism for the discussions.”
But he did stress that the increase in the length of the season – as will come with World Rugby’s new global calendar that is set to be introduced from 2020 – will not be to the detriment of player welfare, given that mandatory periods of rest will be enforced by clubs and the national team.
“There are still mandatory and obligatory rest periods,” he said. “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.
“Then 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 more than anything else.
“Some players who played in the game on Saturday for injury reasons actually haven’t played that much. If you look at the totality of the season – admittedly because they were out injured, Billy and Joe Launchbury were out – they have not played as a matter of fact a huge number of games.
“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.”