10 The Daily Telegraph Thursday 6 August 2020 *** Sport Rugby Union England fans waiting over Six Nations trip to Rome By Daniel Schofield and Fiona Tomas capacity when the next campaign kicks off on Sept 19. Other sports, such as rugby, are likely to follow football’s lead. Even if the stadiums are open, it is unclear whether the Italian government would permit thousands of England fans to travel. Despite being one of the worst affected countries at the start of the pandemic, Italy has thus far avoided a second wave, recording 190 new cases and five deaths on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the UK recorded 892 new cases and 65 deaths. After the Six Nations was suspended in March, organisers say they are “hugely excited” to bring the championship to a conclusion. Ireland play their game in hand against Italy on Oct 24, although the Irish Rugby Football Union says that it is “increasingly unlikely a capacity crowd” will be present. The Wales v Scotland fixture has yet to be assigned a venue. With the Principality Stadium unavailable, the Welsh Rugby Union is exploring the use of stadiums in Wales and England. Six Nations organisers insist the decision on whether crowds will be permitted rests with national governments. “In rescheduling these matches, the health and safety of players, associated staff and supporters has been at the forefront of our thinking,” a Six Nations statement read. England’s women will have the opportunity to defend their title on the same weekend when they travel to Italy, a week after the women’s championship resumes on Oct 24. News of the revised schedule will be a huge relief for home unions, whose preparations for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand have stalled in the wake of the pandemic. Ministers to say if spectators can go to Super Saturday final England women get all-clear to defend title same weekend to win the Six Nations title, leading France on points difference, although Ireland have a game in hand. In normal circumstances, thousands of England fans would travel to Rome, but at present the Italian government has yet to allow fans to return to stadiums because of coronavirus restrictions. The remainder of the Serie A season, which concluded last weekend, was played behind closed doors, but football clubs are lobbying the government to allow stadiums to be opened at 40 per cent England supporters must wait to discover whether they will be allowed to travel to Rome for the Six Nations’ rescheduled Super Saturday, which organisers yesterday confirmed will take place on Oct 31. Eddie Jones’s team are in pole position Top players must not be left broken in carnage of schedule from hell Paying the price for non-stop rugby bad practice,” he says. “That’s an important part of all the discussions. It comes back to confidence and certainty.” Part of the problem is that it is difficult to impose a one-size-fitsall solution across the spectrum of English rugby’s playing base, as Bristol Bears head of athletic performance Kevin Geary explains. “There is no point in comparing a 35-year-old prop to an 18-year-old back and lumping them into the same category. They face a different set of physical demands and need to be treated accordingly. “It is no good even having a band for one position because there could be a player age gap of 10 years and a different injury profile. You have to mine down further to the individual. Whoever has the best understanding of those individuals will keep their squad healthy.” No one knows when players are approaching breaking point better than the clubs, who have access to all the data around training and match load. Those players with England and Lions aspirations are relying upon their clubs to manage their load carefully. Take a player such as Courtney Lawes, the Northampton and England forward, who theoretically could play 12 months straight when the season commences. As crucial a player as Lawes is to Northampton, director of rugby Chris Boyd has already promised that he will receive at least three, if not four, weeks of complete rest in the club’s time. “You have to find windows where you can,” Boyd said. “You have to bite the bullet. It will be hard. If the difference between an international and the next guy is significant and you have got a critical game, then you have to hold your nerve to stick to what you believe is right.” Hence trust – a commodity that has been in short supply recently – is going to be critical for navigating the challenges of the next 12 months. In the longer term, Hopley envisages an American-style collective bargaining agreement between Premiership Rugby and the players when everything from safeguards to salary negotiations are bound in a single document. “That’s the direction of travel,” Hopley says. “We need to rely on trust, but if that is abused that’s where we need to go to a more robust situation.” Deputy rugby corresponDent By Daniel Schofield Clubs have to be relied on to provide proper time for rest as Premiership restart launches 52 weeks of uninterrupted action Rugby Football Union over establishing further safeguards to player welfare. Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the RPA, says that bridges are being built in working towards a common goal. “No club wants to break its players, we understand that,” Hopley told “We recognise we are in unprecedented and unavoidable circumstances with the schedule in front of us. The important thing is the welfare principles do not get blurred by commercial necessity. The clubs have invested huge amounts in looking after players, but we have to put in precautions.” Just as startling as the schedule itself is the fact that squad sizes have plummeted across the Premiership. Recruitment is continuing, but at present London Irish have 13 fewer players in their squad than last year, Bath 11, Leicester 10. The median Premiership squad size stands at 39, when just a couple of years ago it was approaching 50. Even when supplemented by academies, a smaller pool of senior players are going to be asked to play more games in less time. At present, the main safeguard for players is a season limit of 30 full matches or 35 match-day involvements that was agreed in 2018. However, understands that this is a guideline rather than a rule, which several clubs have broken without facing any consequence. Hopley says that whatever agreement is struck needs to be underpinned by a regulatory framework with teeth. “This is around what governance is in place to dissuade bad practice and to correct I t is always a grim exercise to catalogue the attrition rate suffered by Lions players in the following season. Of the original 41-man squad who went to New Zealand in June 2017, 19 had suffered significant injuries by Christmas. Two players, captain Sam Warburton and Jared Payne, would be forced to retire in the subsequent months. This, of course, was after a “normal” season. One cannot help but shudder at the prospect of the carnage that will ensue 12 months from now following the schedule from hell that begins with the resumption of the Premiership season a week on Friday. For leading European players, there follow 52 consecutive weeks of action, which conclude with the third Lions Test against South Africa on Aug 7, 2021. In that period, some Premiership clubs may play seven games in 28 days before some of those same players are thrust into six internationals in seven weeks as the next domestic campaign begins. No one wanted this schedule, brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fitting overlapping calendars into the next 12 months is a huge feat of logistical planning in itself. But the next administrator who dares utter the barefaced lie that “player welfare is our No1 priority” should be put in stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables for all 52 of those weeks. The question is not whether players will be broken, but of mitigating against the inevitable damage. After concluding a bruising war over pay cuts, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players Association are in negotiations with the The Daily Telegraph. Sam Warburton Courtney Lawes Jared Payne The Telegraph
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