Tom Bradshaw: The time is right for Craig and co to press point
The November internationals always provide an opportunity to take the temperature of world rugby. And when New Zealand or Springboks chalk up another unbeaten run, they invariably provoke comment that it's the northern hemisphere game that's ailing and running a temperature. The 'gulf' between south and north, we are told, is expanding.
That is, usually, the central thread of debate. But this year, it is another sub-plot of international rugby that deserves more focused and vigorous debate.
Almost a year ago, Bath Rugby chairman Bruce Craig rattled a few cages by writing and speaking eloquently about, as he saw it, the need for a shake-up of the professional game. Craig argued that a globally-recognised calendar, with a clear demarcation between club and international windows, was needed in order to put the game on a sound footing, both from a playing and a commercial perspective.
Now the man Craig has installed to steer the Bath ship, Gary Gold, has himself contributed to the debate, delivering a message that should have executives at the International Rugby Board in Dublin sitting up and taking notice.
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In a professional era, commercial imperatives – for good or ill – can change the complexion of a sport in a matter of weeks. All that's needed is a well-connected and well- resourced group of chairmen – or a bold, forward-thinking media mogul – to step forward and the format of the game can be challenged and changed in the signing of a cheque.
It is a fact that won't have escaped your attention that the Autumn Internationals take place while domestic rugby continues to take place across Europe. As a result, those clubs which contribute the greatest number of players to national teams are put at a significant disadvantage.
True, two weeks of the autumn internationals are taken up 'just' with the LV= Cup, a competition widely regarded as the poor relation to its strapping, well-heeled elder cousins, the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup. But the autumn internationals, like the Six Nations, do bite into the Premiership calendar. And that, as Craig contends, can only have a devaluing effect on the domestic competition, particularly when some of the big beasts of the Premiership – Leicester and Harlequins, for example – lose so many top-drawer, crowd- pulling players.
That in itself provides sufficient ground to necessitate a rethink of the current rugby calendar.
With the future of the Heineken Cup up in the air, now would appear to be the ideal moment for those pushing for a shake-up of the calendar to press home their point.
Craig, who is well-connected with many of the presidents of French Top 14 clubs and is deputy chairman of Premiership Rugby Ltd, is well-positioned to state his arguments with greater volume. Let's hope the administrators listen.