It seems evident that the November the 3rd International fixtures that are coming up Saturday week, are ‘thumbing their noses’ at World Rugby. The moderators of the self-regulated International window which may see more players banned from the start of the International series.
Late last week, Blade Thomson went from being selected for the Scotland camp, to being disappointed in the World Rugby schedule timing. That was, as his club side Scarlets refused to allow him to join the Scotland group, as the November 3rd fixture was ‘outside the World Rugby International window’.
That is the period when clubs and rugby franchises are directed, to allow players to formally play for their International nations.
Thompson was seen as an important addition to the Scottish Rugby teams planning ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but the fact that Wales had scheduled the International a week earlier than World Rugby might direct Scarlets to let the loose forward play, seems to always affect several players.
Scarlets are just one team ‘thumbing their nose’ at the governing body, whose global-calendar is far from perfect. And it demonstrates the power of the rugby-club system, and how owners and management can still affect the state of the International game.
November 3rd International fixtures ‘thumb their nose’ at World Rugby
Who decides the window?
World Rugby has the authority to set the International window, however, not all domestic rugby competitions comply with those boundaries. For example, the Gallagher Premiership are already in hibernation, during the European Rugby Club rounds [October 12-21]. Yet, the French Top 14 continues to schedule matches from next weekend, until November 3-4.
In another insult to the planning of International sides like Scotland, the Celtic League fixtures for the Guinness PRO14 continue unabated. Up until November 3-4, the fixture list is full.
And for that reason, Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac instructed Thomson that he would not be released for the Wales v Scotland clash.
And when Blade Thomson scored a try on Friday night for his club, it was evidence that Pivac was right to command his player to put club loyalty first. Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend might grumble, but his dissatisfaction should be pointed at World Rugby.
He might also raise the scheduling clash with Scottish Rugby officials, who signed a match outside of the International window.
Why do Nations schedule Internationals outside the window?
England Rugby promotes their Quilter International Series, due to the influence and selection policy of the RFU. Players outside the Gallagher Premiership are not selected, and the scheduling for that domestic competition sees it’s own window for Internationals to be played unaffected.
The critical England v South Africa, and blockbuster ENG v New Zealand clashes are unaffected. Although, from November 16-18, Round Seven of the 2018/19 Premiership restarts. That might see a clash for clubs when England play Japan. And a week later, England are scheduled to play Australia, clubs might still desire to have their players available – but here, the agreed International window means England have the right to select players.
Poorly designed for some nations though. Wales require the financial rewards of a capacity stadium, so a fixture with Scotland will ‘fill the coffers’. But the impact on players like Blade Thompson might be seen as collateral damage.
Poorly timed for some domestic competitions. So what motivates any French or Guinness PRO14 club to release their employees? Very little, even though the schedule clash is known months ahead, it always surprises rugby fans when a leading player is told ‘sorry, you cannot represent Scotland’.
Importantly, the fixture clash will affect South African Rugby too. Their policy of selecting players from offshore will be tested. Duane Vermeulen who plays in the French Top 14 will not likely be released, so that policy could be seen as counterproductive; although, only for the November 3rd fixture against England.
Interestingly, the same scheduling clash affected the availability of Faf de Klerk. The Springboks halfback is signed to play for the Sale Shark in the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership. This has yet to see de Klerk officially named in the squad, and both de Klerk and Willie le Roux each might have contractual issues outside of the International window.
When will it change and, the 2020 Global Calendar
World Rugby can make suggestions and officials like former-Argentine player Agustín Pichot; the World Rugby vice-Chairman can voice their displeasure, but clubs will likely always control the freedom of players. Any global calendar might just influence the timing of a competition, but it is up to the French Top 14 or Guinness PRO14 officials to plan for the benefit of the global game.
What benefits would they gain? Little, as a window, would still need to be utilized to the advantage of November Internationals. But foremostly, those seem more pertinent in the years either side of the Rugby World Cup. The four-year cycle seems the only balance to the argument of nationality v club loyalty.
Blade Thomson, Duane Vermeulen and others might be the victims of the current schedule. Nations like New Zealand and South Africa are lucrative streams of incomes for the RFU, WRFU and the Scottish and Irish Rugby bodies. The hugely popular fixtures are good for the balance sheet – so changes to the calendar, are balanced against revenue streams….as well as team progression towards any Rugby World Cup.
Fans enjoy the regularity, but they also enjoy the full schedule of the Premiership, Top 14 or Celtic League. Even if those clubs wield powers that remove some from representing their nation – adopted or naturalized – World Rugby seem powerless at times. And Pichot has voiced his concerns, telling the Guardian that calls for unions and clubs to hammer out a fresh collective 10-year blueprint before next year’s World Cup in Japan.
He admitted the current financial model “is not working”. Yet World Rugby is the conduit required to plan and; to a degree, influence others to change.
It just seems that in 2018, clubs are still thumbing their noses, when it comes to the November calendar.
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