Stop the madness- we need real breaks in the Six Nations  

It was reported recently that English clubs want to scrap the rest weeks of the Six Nations, to give more flexibility to the season. The rest weeks exist due to the brutal nature of international fixtures- but there’s a debate to be had as to whether returning to domestic action in those weeks is really a rest.

Is club rugby really a good idea during the international periods?

Level Playing Fields- Internationally

You may remember a year ago, me saying that it’s not all bad news playing during International periods. Maybe that’s true, but I have changed my tune a little since then…

I think it club rugby does suffer as a result of these games.

In England and France, they expect their Internationals players to come back (except from their own nations squads) which hardly gives these players “a rest” and of course increases the likelihood of injury to those players.

The same happens with Pro12 players playing in their home nation being protected- the difference being that there are no current English nor French internationals in the Pro12, which is an advantage for those nations.

This is all a result of people protecting their own interests, as they should, but it could be argued this puts a higher risk on the Celtic sides, who already have more limited resources than England and France.

Level Playing Fields- Club Rugby

This section comes with a large Glasgow Warriors bias. That said, when you look at Saracens loss to Gloucester and what happened to them against Wasps at this time last year, I think it’s relevant in a wider context.

This weekend Glasgow Warriors went down to Ulster 37-17. That’s one of their biggest defeats that I can think of in recent years. It seems that teams such as Ospreys, Munster and Leinster, who all provide lots of Internationals deal with this period better than the Warriors. Glasgow though, are missing a sizeable chunk of their team in this period- 16 to Scotland and 1 to Canada and 1 to Italy. Some were released back to the Warriors for the Ulster fixture.

Throw in injuries and you had a Glasgow team with academy/club players in and a player who arrived just nine days earlier, playing out of position. That’s not to knock these guys, there were some good individual performances, but it’s not hard to imagine why things weren’t quite coming off for them at the weekend.

In a normal round of Pro12 Rugby, you would expect a closer game than that between these two sides.

Player Welfare

I’m no scientist, but I’m sure that this much rugby isn’t good for folk. The “rest weeks” exist for a reason. Contrary to some club’s beliefs, their players aren’t slabs of meat, shaped to make them a profit- they’re human beings, workers with rights. Denying them Six Nations rest weeks is unfair and I’d go as far as saying the season should be restructured so that there aren’t even club games in this period. Dan Biggar seems to agree.

More recently, soon to be Scotland coach was hesitant to call for them to be abolished, but did acknowledge the effect they have on his side.

Discouraging Home Talent

This isn’t necessarily what is happening right now- but I look at Northern Hemisphere teams and think, if I were a coach driving for results, what would I prefer- to develop some talents that I will then lose to Internationals, seeing my team struggle and potentially jeopardise my season- or invest in SH talents that won’t have to leave during the Six Nations, such as Charles Piutau, Kurtley Beale, Marcelo Bosch etc…

Whilst Scotland are developing and nurturing a huge amount of talent right now, it’s no coincidence that they have signed non-international back-row Callum Gibbins at the expense of Scotstoun favourite and Italian International, Simone Favaro.

The Fans

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Irish Times on you. If fans see an Ospreys poster with Dan Biggar scoring a try on, they shouldn’t expect to see that happen, nor even for Dan Biggar to be playing.

However, as a fan I can understand why people feel less inspired to attend games during these periods. Many of us will have spent our cash on the Six Nations tournament and the domestic leagues go onto a bit of a back burner.

Take my situation as an example. I’m a Scotland and Glasgow Warriors fan, living in Swansea. On Saturday, Scotland play Wales, and on Sunday, Glasgow Warriors play Ospreys in Swansea.

Up to 16 of the most exciting Glasgow players could be on display on Saturday. On Sunday, there will be some quality players too, and some fringe and even club players on the field. I’m probably more excited for the first game, despite not making it to the ground.

I have relatively easy access to Ospreys tickets and family visiting, but if it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure I’d be choosing to spend a very hungover day at the Glasgow game, I’d probably stay in bed.

I still support my team, but there’s certainly less incentive for me to attend than there would otherwise be.

To me, it’s no surprise that attendances and viewing figures drop in this time. That said, if anyone watched any Guinness Pro12 or Aviva Premiership rugby last weekend, as far as neutrals are concerned, there were some cracking games played, so maybe we should be inspired to attend regardless.

Proposal

Frankly, I don’t have a specific proposal- especially with speculation about the Pro12 welcoming Germany, Georgia, or becoming the Guinness Atlantic Rugby Championship, I can’t see much point at this stage.

Add in the Premiership’s desire to shorten the Six Nations and it really is all up in the air at the moment.

All I know is that, we need to stop the madness- have REAL Six nations breaks to improve welfare and ensure that league standings are representative of the best sides.

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The Scribbler, 22nd February, 2017

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

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