Ap­peal for Six Na­tions to con­dense for Lions years

Warwickshire Telegraph - - SPORT - By NICK PUREWALL

ENG­LAND chief Nigel Melville has called on the Six Na­tions to con­dense by one week once ev­ery four years to safe­guard the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions’ fu­ture.

The Rugby Foot­ball Union (RFU) in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive Melville has pro­posed his pre­ferred so­lu­tion to the Lions’ prepa­ra­tion bat­tles for the 2021 South Africa tour.

The Gal­lagher Premier­ship’s re­shaped fu­ture sea­sons put the English club league’s 2021 play-off fi­nal on June 26, just a week be­fore the Lions’ open­ing tour match in South Africa.

Pro14 bosses have al­ready ad­mit­ted they would resched­ule their fi­nal once ev­ery four years, though Premier­ship chiefs have held onto their sched­uled date – leav­ing stand-in RFU boss Melville putting forth an­other so­lu­tion.

“Take timeta­bles, my view is you can solve that prob­lem,” said Melville.

“They (the Lions) need an ex­tra week. If ev­ery four years we move the Six Na­tions from seven to six weeks, you cre­ate that ex­tra week.

“So ev­ery four years why don’t we do that?”

Lions bosses fought against the odds of a densely-packed sched­ule to pull off a drawn se­ries with New Zealand in 2017.

But that left then-head coach War­ren Gat­land and tour man­ager John Spencer in­sist­ing only ex­tra prepa­ra­tion time would keep the much-loved Lions alive.

The Lions’ 2021 tour has al­ready been cut from six to five weeks and 10 to eight matches, as part of global cal­en­dar re­shap­ing agreed in San Fran­cisco in Jan­uary 2017.

The 2021 Premier­ship fi­nal has raised fears Eng­land play­ers in­volved could sim­ply be over­looked for Lions se­lec­tion, given their lack of prepa­ra­tion time.

Asked if con­dens­ing the Six Na­tions would threaten player wel­fare, Melville replied: “No, be­cause that week wouldn’t have a game. It would be bet­ter prepa­ra­tion for the Lions so they have that week off, as in pre­par­ing.

“So you’re sav­ing a week here and putting it there.

“In­stead of com­ing out of a fi­nal and go­ing straight into a Lions tour, how about you have the ex­tra week? That would make a dif­fer­ence.

“Is it bet­ter use of that week. That’s the kind of so­lu­tion that could prob­a­bly solve that.”

Melville urged all par­ties to be “cre­ative” in solv­ing this prob­lem, but also con­ceded Eng­land would need to con­vince the other five unions in the Six Na­tions.

“There’s only so many weeks in the year so we’ve got to get move­ment in that fourth year,” said Melville.

“That’s an op­por­tu­nity to get that move­ment if Premier­ship weren’t pre­pared to move.

“Or if they did, we’d have to have an­other over­lap game, which wouldn’t help any­body. It’s an­other way of look­ing at it. Be a bit more cre­ative. It would re­quire the sup­port of Ire­land and Scot­land and Wales, France and Italy as well who have no stake in the Lions.

“I’m sure the Lions could look at other op­tions and talk to Premier­ship Rugby about how they can move it. Maybe there’s an eas­ier so­lu­tion.

“It’s more in our hands than in PRL hands. In my new role I’m on the Six Na­tions so I can cer­tainly dis­cuss it.

“The Lions is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant for rugby. Is it worth fight­ing for? Of course it is.”

The Ire­land team cel­e­brate after beat­ing Eng­land at Twick­en­ham to com­plete the Grand Slam and se­cure the 2018 Six Na­tions cham­pi­onship in March

RFU in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive Nigel MelvilleNigel Melville

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