The proposed launch of the World 12s competition has been branded “nonsensical” and “illogical” by one of the most powerful figures within the club game.
Simon Halliday, chairman of the European Professional Club Rugby, has met with his World 12s counterpart Ian Ritchie and is still perplexed by the attempt to crowbar a new tournament into a calendar that is already stretched to breaking point. “I am just totally confused by the proposal,” Halliday told Telegraph Sport.
Halliday has been at the heart of the exhaustive negotiations that has led to an eight-year heads of agreement being signed between clubs and unions this year to provide long-term certainty over the structure of the calendar and guaranteed rest periods for players. Organisers of the World 12s have indicated the first tournament would take place over three weeks in August and September 2022, cutting across the European pre-season as well as the Rugby Championship. What makes way for the new competition has yet to be explained.
“I don’t see any logic at all,” Halliday said. “I have never given any thought into whether 12s is a desirable format. I am not going to tell Steve Hansen he does not know what he’s talking about. But given everything that has been put in place over the last few months, it is going to take a huge turnaround from every administrator involved in those decision to accommodate something like this and especially at a time when we are trying to reduce the workload on players.
“If you want players to play more then something has to give. If players are going to play more in a certain period of weeks then they are going to have to play less in another period of weeks. Does that mean they are not going to play for their club in the Premiership or Europe? Does that mean they are not going to play international rugby? We are trying to protect the long-term health of the players and you can’t do that by playing more rugby. If this tournament does happen then other rugby would have to make room for it.”
So far the clubs have yet to receive any direct contact from the World 12s organisers. While there are some seemingly heavyweight names attached to the project such as Ritchie and Hansen, Halliday points out none of them currently tread rugby’s corridors of power.
“The more you discuss it, the more nonsensical it becomes, and yet some interesting people have put their names to it,” Halliday said. “With respect to all of the parties involved, none of them have been involved in those calendar negotiations over the past two years. On the face of it, it is exciting because anything new is exciting. But I assume any potential franchise buyer would be asking whether they have agreement on the release of the players that would make it a reality. The answer is that there has not even been a discussion.”
Halliday himself has been trying to launch his own competition, a Club World Cup, for the past few years. However, he argues there is no comparison with the World 12s as the Club World Cup would take the place of the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup every four years. “I don’t think there’s any similarity at all,” Halliday said. “The difference is that everyone wants the Club World Cup. The players want it. The clubs want it. The world of rugby wants it. It makes sense. It will be once every four years and will replace fixtures that are already in the calendar rather than adding to them.”
As for the argument that the sport has grown too stale in light of a grindingly boring Lions series, Halliday points to the Premiership final as its counterpoint. “If you get people in the right mindset, as evidenced by the Premiership final, there’s nothing better than XVs rugby.”
Where he feels the World 12s organisers have made a valid point is in their desire to give the women’s competition an equal footing with the men’s and Halliday indicates that EPCR intend to make strides on this front. “Where I do think there are interesting observations in how you grow the women’s game from here,” Halliday said. “That’s something that EPCR are looking very closely at right now. The women’s game has to grow. I watched the Solheim Cup last week and I was like ‘wow, how good is this?’ A lot of women’s sport is captivating the sporting world and we need to make it work in rugby a lot better.”