Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, fears players face burnout as a result of planned changes to the calendar that would lead to 11-month seasons for England internationals.
World Rugby last month announced a rejigged international fixture list from 2020 onwards, under which England’s summer tours move from June to July. Premiership Rugby promptly revealed its own intentions to move the end of the club season from May to June but to keep the start in September, rather than move it to October, as was expected.
The RFU and Premiership Rugby have rejected concerns over player welfare, pointing to the mandatory 32-match limit for players in a season, but McCall fears the proposals will leave internationals – his Champions Cup quarter-finalists provided England with Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers during the Six Nations – without enough time off.
“If the season is going to finish at the end of June, not the end of May, then the start in September doesn’t seem the right thing to do,” he said. “If the internationals come back at the end of July, where does that leave them in terms of recovery? Something has to give somewhere along the line; what that is, I don’t know.
“It’s not just not having breaks during the season, it’s about pre-season as well, it’s those players who are not getting the chance to recover in the right way, who don’t get a chance to get away. We’ve got to be careful with making sure players don’t get burnt out by being involved all the time.”
McCall highlighted the problem of the conflicting interests of international rugby and the clubs, all the while ensuring that player welfare remains the No1 priority. He stopped short of offering a solution but hinted that fewer internationals may ease the burden.
He said: “It will probably take someone who does not have a bias to sort this out. Because the international game is going to fight its own corner and the clubs need to fight for their own significance, because county cricket used to be very important and it’s gone now. It’s young as a sport professionally, rugby union, it’s just finding its feet and we need to be careful.
“You’ve got three competing interests. Player welfare, which should be at the front of it, then you’ve got international rugby and you’ve got club rugby and they all pull in different directions and something has to give.
“There’s talk of not having a summer tour in 2020. If that’s the case, it seems a long time away but that’s a very good thing. It gives those players who need it most the chance to get ready for the new season.”