The British and Irish Lions appeared to be the biggest losers following Tuesday’s announcement of a revamped English domestic season which confirmed the combined side face a shortened trip to South Africa in 2021.
That tour has been reduced to five weeks from six and eight matches from 10, as was originally agreed at a World Rugby meeting in San Francisco last year.
But Tuesday also saw English officials insist players in its domestic Premiership would not be given additional time to train with the Lions.
Last year the Lions, a team made up of the cream of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh rugby union, defied many pundits by sharing a three-match series with world champions New Zealand 1-1, the third Test ending in a dramatic 15-15 draw.
Afterwards, Lions coach Warren Gatland, a native New Zealander on secondment from his position as Wales boss, was adamant the team needed more time to prepare, having arrived just a few days before their opening tour match.
But whereas a 3-0 thrashing by the All Blacks might have sparked a rethink, the Lions may have become victims of their own success.
In 2021, the Premiership final will take place on June 26, with the Lions playing their first tour match a week later.
The Pro14 – the domestic tournament for leading Scottish, Irish and Welsh clubs – are willing to move their season to give the Lions breathing space and England players could be at a disadvantage when it comes to selection for the combined side.
Tuesday’s announcement came against a backdrop of plans to create a unified global season that also takes accounts of player welfare fears, with combatting concussion-related injuries in an often brutal sport now a major concern.
In England, the situation has been further complicated by the fact players are contracted by their clubs rather than, as happens in New Zealand and Ireland, their national unions.
However, England’s governing Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association all stressed at a Twickenham briefing on Tuesday that designated rest periods would mean no individual would play 11 months of the year – a thought that had led some players to contemplate strike action when plans to extend the season were first announced.
“There was a huge amount of uproar from players who never speak about these things,” said RPA chief executive Damian Hopley. “Still there are questions, but I think – around the principles that we have agreed – there is consensus.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Joseph McBrien)