European clubs stall global rugby talks

Daniel Gilhooly

Southern hemisphere rugby's push for a global calendar has been batted away by European clubs, drawing a sharp rebuke from the New Zealand boss.

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson criticised the unwillingness for change from English and French club bosses which has once again put the long-held goal of aligning the hemispheres on hold.

An international forum ended in stalemate after representatives of the cash-rich clubs said they wouldn't agree to shifting the July Test window in the south to October.

Such a move would open up an improved Super Rugby model and allow New Zealand and Australia to run other domestic competitions without impediment.

It would set up Test fixtures in October and November, creating the possibility of a sponsor-friendly global tournament.

Robinson said the clubs' stance was lamentable given the coronavirus pandemic had created a "once in 100 year opportunity" to reshape a calendar that had inherent shortcomings.

"We'd have hoped that they might come to the table with a little more compromise," Robinson told reporters.

"There's great alignment between World Rugby, the national unions and the players, to want to work towards something new and fresh. It makes sense comercially and for players and fans."

The club opposition wasn't unexpected, with reports leading up to the forum suggesting owners were worried their broadcast deals would be downsized.

They reportedly baulked at considering major concessions such starting club seasons in December or even March, making professional rugby a summer affair in the north.

Robinson said the best hope to get movement from club owners would now be through direct negotiations with the respective English and French national unions.

He noted the season for top club players in the north would typically comprise 42 weeks, something he said should prompt change.

"To talk about player welfare and talk about a season like that, to me, is a bit counter-intuitive.

"We just have to trust they have very good people at those national organisations that will keep working in the greater interest of the game."