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Thread: Lock-up to target Test integrity

  1. #1
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    Lock-up to target Test integrity

    Never a truer thing said than the last sentence!!!

    Lock-up to target Test integrity

    By Bret Harris
    May 10, 2007


    THE game's international body is planning a three-day lock-up to resolve contentious issues surrounding the implementation of a global season.

    The idea has been on the agenda for some time, but there is a lack of agreement about how it would work.

    But one area where there is general agreement is support for the integrity of Test rugby, which is being slowly eroded by the advent of soccer-style "friendlies".

    Northern hemisphere countries, including Wales for its two-Test tour of Australia starting this month, will send understrength squads to the southern hemisphere this year.

    There is a strong argument for an integrated international season that will maintain the status of Test rugby in meaningful competitions.

    Wales and Australia will play for the James Bevan Trophy, named after the Australian-born Welshman who was the captain of the first Wales team, which played against England in 1881.

    Outgoing Australian Rugby Union chief executive Gary Flowers, who has just returned from an International Rugby Board meeting in Dublin, said the sport's governing body was planning a lock-up to sort out the issues. The IRB is looking to hold the lock-up at the end of this year, possibly during the World Cup in France in September-October, or early in 2008.

    It would be similar to the three-day lock-up the ARU held to establish the national competition after years of disagreement over the concept.

    "There was a lot of noise at the IRB about Test matches and programming," said Flowers, who finishes at the ARU today. "The SANZAR countries (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) have a strong view that the current program is not working.

    "That has received some recognition, with the dropping off of tours in World Cup years.

    "The IRB is committed to the process of a three-day lock-up of stakeholders to discuss an international season.

    "They want to get it right.

    "They have to get back to a situation where Test matches are the best of the best and are not undermined by these second- and third-rate teams."

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    SIX NATIONS TO RESCHEDULE

    A breakthrough agreement between the English and French elite clubs and the top European national rugby unions could save international test rugby from the brink of disaster.

    Reports out of the IRB's meeting in Dublin are suggesting the agreement may lead to a scheduling revamp which could include the Six Nations competition being played at the same time of the year as an expanded Tri Nations tournament, possibly opening the way for Argentina and a composite Pacific Islands team to join the competition as early as 2008. Ireland, Scotland and Wales have previously resisted any moving of the Six Nations due to the potentially disastrous financial consequences but the English and French clubs' boycott of Europe's Heineken Cup may have forced their hand.

    A new international test window could end the growing deterioration of test rugby with major European countries failing to secure the release of players from English and French clubs. International squads would be at full strength because no major club or franchise rugby would be played anywhere in the world during the new test window.

    There are also suggestions the top two or top four placed teams in Six Nations and the Tri Nations might play each other as part of the new window.

    The Sanzar unions could still veto the change in the international schedule but with the Sanzar officials having recently been in Dublin they would have been consulted in the planning process.

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    I think this sort of scheduling makes perfect sense.

    Only a couple of similar problems spring to mind...

    - There might be injury issues with the top players at the end of a gruelling club or franchise season. (Though I s'pose that's no different from how it is now if a test is played during the season, it's just a question of luck.)

    - And there's also the question of conditioning - I know these guys are athletes and it's their job etc etc, but there's a limit as to how long you can spend at your peak, isn't there?

    Apart from that, like I said, it's good common sense. A test cap should be meaningful in a player's career, and the crowd wants to see a proper national team.

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