NZ Rugby scoff at complaints over Lions itinerary
WELLINGTON – New Zealand Rugby have scoffed at complaints from a top English administrator that the packed itinerary for next year’s British and Irish Lions tour will be too tough on players and have a knock-on effect when they return home to their clubs.
The Lions play 10 matches on the highly anticipated tour, which includes three tests against the All Blacks, a game against the Maori All Blacks, and matches against each of New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises.
They open the tour against a combined provincial selection, likely to be made up of semi-professional and amateur players, on June 3.
While the itinerary has been known for several months, the “punishing schedule” drew criticism at the weekend from Mark McCafferty, the head of Premiership Rugby, which runs England’s professional club competition.
NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew, however, said while McCafferty was entitled to make his comments they would have no bearing on the tour.
“The last time I looked I don’t think he’s on the Lions board,” Tew told reporters on a conference call on Monday. “He has got his view and he is entitled to it.
“We could suggest that their competition runs a tad long too for player welfare reasons. But we’ll stick to our business and he can stick to his.”
McCafferty told British media he had been concerned neither Premiership Rugby or the Pro12, which Irish, Welsh and Scottish professional clubs compete in, had not been involved in discussions around the timing of the Lions tour.
The Premiership Rugby chief executive added the potential for player burnout was a concern.
“It is a punishing schedule and I do not know why it was signed up to,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “Ten games over that period is a lot and there will be difficulty for players coming off that tour going into the 2017-18 Premiership.
“It is not sustainable that players can go through a club and international season, be involved in that scale of a tour and be in shape for the following season.”
The clubs in England’s Premiership and in the Pro 12 play 22 regular season games and have two rounds of playoffs, with both of next year’s finals set for May 27.
They also compete in European competitions.
Clubs and national unions have long been at loggerheads over the length of seasons and the issue has been a stumbling block in the implementation of a unified calendar that aligns club and international seasons worldwide.
World Rugby’s current agreement, which governs the touring schedules of international sides, expires after the 2019 World Cup in Japan and southern hemisphere unions are keen to implement a streamlined global calendar within a new agreement.
“I have had some email … over the weekend with my counterpart in England Ian Ritchie and we are still working on some of the options we would hope to get back on the table when World Rugby meets again in November,” Tew said. “Though having been in this game for a long time I’m not holding anyone to any particular date.” -Reuters