London – Saracens coach Mark McCall is concerned that club rugby union could go the way of English county cricket when the new global season kicks in from 2020.
The plan to provide greater harmony between the northern and southern hemisphere seasons, with rugby union a winter sport on both sides of the Equator, has thrown up several talking points.
One of the major topics being discussed is a suggestion that the European season could be extended to 11 months, running from September to July.
This has led to renewed concerns over potential impacts on player welfare and the balance between the international and club game.
The expansion of the international programme in cricket has made it ever more difficult for the domestic county game to gain attention and support.
Indeed so concerned are English cricket officials at the composition of their fanbase, they plan to launch a new eight-team Twenty20 competition in 2020 in a bid to gain new supporters.
“County cricket used to be quite important and now it’s gone,” said McCall, who guided London club Saracens to an English Premiership and European Champions Cup double last season.
“Rugby union is a very young professional sport in comparison to all the other professional sports that have existed in the world and the club game is just finding its feet,” added McCall ahead of Saracens’ Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Glasgow.
“At this stage it would be unwise for club rugby to lose its significance and that is a fight that the clubs have on their hands at the moment.”
The former Ireland international added: “And with player welfare and the international game, keeping that significance is quite a difficult thing to achieve.
“To my mind you’ve got three competing interests and this is the most difficult question in the world.
“Player welfare at the front of it then you’ve got international rugby and club rugby. They’re all pulling in different directions and something has to give at some point.”
“It probably takes someone who hasn’t got a bias to sort this out because the international game is going to fight its corner and the clubs need to fight for their own significance.”
As things stand, England internationals are limited to 32 matches a season.
But plans for a new global season published thus far have made no mention of a limit on player appearances.
If Test players are to go on southern hemipshere tours in July, they could have limited recovery time before a new European season starts in September.
“It’s hard,” said McCall. “If the club season is going to finish at the end of June, then to start in September doesn’t seem the right thing to do.
“The international players come back at the end of July and where does that leave them in terms of recovery and that kind of thing?
“It’s going to rely on clubs to look after their players’ welfare. We do and we’ve got to be careful that some of our international players don’t get burnt out by being involved all the time.”
Saracens are set to feature several members of the England side that won the Six Nations when they face a Glasgow team who’ve reached the Champions Cup quarter-final for the first time in the Scottish club’s history.
“They will bring fans down to Allianz Park, which will change the atmosphere there,” McCall said.
“It’s a huge moment in Glasgow’s history but we’re aware of those things and must not be surprised by the quality of Glasgow or the emotion they’ll bring. It’s very important that we’re in the right place ourselves.”