All Blacks captain Kieran Read has voiced his reservations about World Rugby’s proposed new World League.
The competition would involve 12 teams, the Six Nations teams, the four Rugby Championship teams, along with Japan and the United States in a round-robin competition.
It’s believed that World Rugby bosses are seeking to ratify the deal in the coming weeks, which has raised concerns among the International Rugby Players Council.
The 40-member Council, which included nine of the top ten international team captains, were involved in a teleconference earlier this week to discuss the potential 12-year deal.
Read, a member of the Council, said in a statement he was concerned about player welfare.
“After listening to the issues raised by many of the players, we need to be very careful that we balance the commercial needs of the game, with the player welfare needs and ensure the quality and integrity of matches meets expectations.
“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.
“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.”
While senior players have consistently voiced their support for the concept, ongoing concerns exist around the detail of the competition format that has been taken to market in recent months.
The International Rugby Players Council said in a statement players were united in their concern about the proposed format in relation to:
- Player load challenges from multiple top-level test matches in different countries and time-zones in consecutive weeks
- Increased long-haul travel in short time frames
- A lack of real opportunities for Tier Two nations to progress
- Increased conflicts between country and club demands and Regulation 9 release periods
- Potential impact on Rugby World Cup and Lions tours
- The long-term quality and integrity of the international game
Council president Jonathan Sexton said: “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.
“The issue of player load has never been so topical, however it 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”
The council understands that promotion and relegation will not form part of the new proposal, preventing Tier Two and emerging nations from accessing top level competitive matches and creating a ceiling on their aspirations to advance and improve.
Leading rugby administrator Aayden Clarke, chief executive of Pacific Rugby Players, believes Pacific players face being stranded in the international wilderness if the plans go ahead.
He said players from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga would focus on club rugby in Europe and Japan rather than playing meaningless internationals with no hope of advancement.