World Cup 'player access' row rumbles on
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend says he’s worried about the ongoing row between Premiership Rugby Limited and World Rugby over the release of players because of insurance issues.
As it stands Premiership players will be prevented from joining up with their national team squads until mid-August, with England being the exception because of the £220m Professional Game Agreement between the PRL and the RFU which was signed in 2016.
That could mean teams would only have their full complement of players 35 days before the opening game of the Rugby World Cup, which is on September 20th when hosts Japan face Russia in Pool A.
Among those who could be most affected are Scotland, who face what could be a Pool A decider against Ireland in their opening match, on Sunday 22nd. The runners-up in Pool A have to face the Pool B winners in the quarterfinals, with the All Blacks favourites to claim top spot in Pool B.
Gregor Townsend had nine Premiership players in his Autumn international squad, while there are seven in his 39-man Six Nations squad – Newcastle Falcons trio Gary Graham and John Hardie and Chris Harris, Jake Kerr (Leicester Tigers) Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks) and Sean Maitland (Saracens). Fullback Stuart Hogg is also due to join Exeter Chiefs this summer, albeit he may have a release clause in his contract. Ireland on the other hand only use players under their central contract system and will have far longer to prepare.
Last month RugbyPass exclusively revealed that England’s top clubs are paying 20 overseas players more than £350,000 a season which has triggered legal action being taken against World Rugby.
Unlimited cover is in place in football, on the last four British and Irish Lions tours and for those Premiership players chosen for the Barbarians. Premiership Rugby wants that replicated for all nations with World Rugby picking up the bill, not the individual countries.
Speaking to RugbyPass at the Six Nations launch Gregor Townsend urged a solution to be found as soon as possible.
“It’s a concern until it gets sorted, so obviously I’d encourage the PRL, World Rugby to come up with a solution pretty quickly,” he said.
“We are affected, like Italy are, in the Six Nations and we have players playing outside our country more than Wales and obviously England and Ireland pick players from their countries. So this year it is already a challenge for us during the Six Nations as we can only have players training for three days and players going back to play for their clubs.
“But the World Cup when there is no club games we want to be on the same footing as every team and have a proper preparation going into that. And I know there are other countries like Fiji and Samoa that will be affected.”
“The sooner we get a resolution to that, we can prepare to play our best ever rugby in a World Cup, which is getting more and more prepared ahead of each tournament.”
Asked whether having just two professional teams in Scotland was proving detrimental Townsend said: “It’s a challenge. You can only work with either the player numbers or the finance to have competitive teams. We’ve found a balance of two teams and those two teams have never played as well. We’ve got two teams for the first time in the knockout stage of the Champions Cup, so it seems that the model for producing really good performances in Scotland at a pro level is working.
“On the other side, it means that some players play outside Scotland, which makes bringing them together and managing players to play well at international rugby make it tougher than what Ireland face for example.”
By Nathaniel Cope, RugbyPass