Pathway outlined for return of international rugby

World Rugby has announced a new 2020 calendar for international matches during COVID-19, with the decision already attracting criticism from club competition stakeholders in France and England.

The World Rugby Council has approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows. The adjustment to the regulation has been approved as a temporary measure to mitigate the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on global rugby activities.

World Rugby said approval follows “extensive and productive dialogue” between the sport’s major stakeholders, balancing the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare to determine a schedule that it claims will optimise the immediate financial recovery and funding of the sport at all levels.

A temporary global player release window of October 24 through to the first weekend of December is designed to accommodate the completion of the 2020 men’s and women’s Six Nations on October 24 and 31, a rest weekend on November 7 and four consecutive rounds of international matches.

A temporary window for the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship has been proposed for November 7 to the second weekend of December. With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact transcontinental travel and entry requirements, on an exceptional basis the 2020 Rugby Championship will take place over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and the second week in December.

SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, this month said New Zealand is the “favoured option” for a 2020 Rugby Championship held in one location.

World Rugby has claimed the rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September.

It added that the process also reflects the ambition to “minimise impact” on the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, and English Premiership finals matches. However, the AFP news agency reports that the LNR, which oversees French club rugby, has hinted at legal action by issuing a formal notice to World Rugby, accusing it of modifying the international calendar “without any real consultation with the professional leagues and in particular the LNR.”

English Premiership officials had last week expressed concerns over staging Test matches in November and December, with the decision to leave clubs without their overseas players for one week of next season’s domestic matches and the opening round of the Champions Cup.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “The global COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in its impact on society and sport and throughout this process, all parties have sought to deliver the best-possible outcome to support the interests of international and club rugby and the players.

“Agreement and approval of this schedule is exciting for players and fans and an important step in supporting our unions in mitigating financial impact and optimising the sport’s return from the pandemic in an equitable way.

“These matches will be greatly anticipated by all, and I would like to thank unions, the international and club competitions and players for their input and the fans for their patience as we have sought to get international rugby back up and running.”

Image: World Rugby