High-profile players, including Johnny Sexton, Kieran Read and Owen Farrell, have expressed serious concerns regarding World Rugby's intentions for the future of the international game.
Rugby union's governing body has plans to introduce a 12-team World League beginning in 2020. According to the New Zealand Herald, it would be comprised of the Six Nations Championship teams and Rugby Championship teams along with Japan and USA. The competition would be run every non-World Cup year.
The International Rugby Players Council, of which Johnny Sexton is president, held a conference call this week on the matter. They have now expressed several concerns about the new format.
Those include issues with the likely increased load on players, long-haul travel in short time frames, the lack of opportunity for Tier Two nations to progress and the impact any new competition could have on both the World Cup and Lions Tour.
"While players gave this idea a cautious welcome when we met at the end of last year, it now seems like a commercial deal on the future of the game is being negotiated at a rapid pace with little consideration given to the important points we raised with World Rugby in November," said Sexton in a statement.
The issue of player load has never been so topical, however needs to be properly understood. To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level test matches in consecutive weeks in November is out of touch and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings.
New Zealand captain Kieran Read also has worries.
"Fans want to see meaningful games; they don’t want to see fatigued players playing a reduced quality of rugby as part of a money-driven, weakened competition that doesn’t work for the players or clubs," said Read.
"With new technologies, new broadcast deals and new money coming into the sport, this is a crucial moment for rugby and one that many players are generally excited about. However, we have to make sure that the integrity of the game and welfare of the players is protected.”
England's Owen Farrell added that there is a willingness among players to discuss a revamp.
"What we develop has to work with the club game in order to reduce conflict, deal with player release issues and make sure their welfare is looked after," said Farrell.
“The proposal presented to us at the moment doesn’t seem to have considered this properly and shows no signs of improving this already difficult situation."
It's said that the new format would not allow for promotion and relegation, meaning uncertainty for the countries just below the top level.
"For countries in this bracket and for Pacific Islanders in particular, our biggest issue has always been the ‘club versus country’ factor," said Samoa captain Chris Vui.
"We feel that a 12-year deal is not workable, particularly when it presents no hope of advancement during that period. This will have the dangerous knock-on effect of luring senior players away from their countries and more towards the clubs, which is the exact opposite of what we’re all trying to achieve”."
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