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Could Players Strike over Extension to Rugby Season?

Rugby Union faces the prospect of a players strike according to the Rugby Players' Association's Chief Executive Damian Hopley.#

A large number of players have expressed their disappointment that they were not consulted by the Rugby Football Union before it published its proposals for changes to the 2019-20 fixtures programme.

Crowded Season

The season is already crowded for the elite players, many of whom juggle international commitments with an increasingly congested domestic and European club season. Add to this training camps with their national squads, and it is easy to understand why the players are concerned about the mental and physical demands being made on them.

The changes in the modern game can be seen in rugby drill videos, such as those found at websites such as https://www.sportplan.net/drills/Rugby/index.jsp. The object is to keep the players fresh in body and mind.

Strike

But is the prospect of a strike a real threat? Hopley is not alone in suggesting that the players may take matters into their own hands unless a negotiated agreement can be reached. England and Saracens star number eight Billy Vunipola has suggested the players may follow the example of NFL and NBA players in the US who staged a lock-out in a dispute with club owners and their respective leagues.The former Rugby Football Union Director of Professional Rugby, Rob Andrew, threw his weight behind the players. He suggested that the workload for the players was not sustainable and that something had to give, pointing out that without the players there was no product. Having been both an administrator and an international player, Andrew is well placed to comment, and he seems to recognise a growing gap between the players and the RFU.

Not everyone sees it this way, with Exeter club Chairman Tony Rowe suggesting the proposals for the 2019-20 season offer a more balanced season. Hopley maintained that the existing 14-week break between seasons should be maintained, but even in non-World Cup years international tours still put enormous pressure on the elite players.

An olive branch was recently offered to the players when new Chief Executive Officer of the RFU, Steve Brown, told The Guardian that players’ welfare was his top priority.

A former Finance Officer at the RFU, Brown is aware of the impact of any industrial action from the players and their union.