An escalating club versus country row intensified in England and France on Monday with Premiership Rugby and Top 14 demanding a say in any changes to the international calendar when the sport resumes in a letter sent to World Rugby.
The Premiership chief executive, Darren Childs, and his French counterpart, Paul Goze, both signed the letter addressed to World Rugby, the RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney and the France federation president Bernard Laporte, insisting that it was "essential" that the domestic leagues were involved in shaping the post-pandemic landscape.
World Rugby has a contingency plan to reschedule the July tours – certain to be cancelled – for October, which, along with this year's postponed Six Nations match against Italy and their autumn fixtures, could see England play seven matches this autumn. The Premiership would hope its 2020-21 season is up and running by then however, while the Champions Cup organisers have also targeted October for completing this season's competition.
Eddie Jones is guaranteed access to his players for England's match against Italy but it is believed there is no such provision under the RFU's agreement with the Premiership for a rescheduled tour of Japan in October.
The Premiership has previously insisted that any structural changes to the season would have to be put to the clubs via the Professional Game Board but Monday’s letter goes further and calls for a seat at the decision-making table.
“It is essential that any possible changes of the competition periods devoted to the national teams can only take place after consultation and within the framework of an agreement with the professional leagues affected by such changes,” reads the letter. “The exceptional situation must lead all the parties to show a spirit of cooperation and solidarity, we do not however imagine that club competitions should be the variable for adjusting the calendar management in the context of this crisis.”
Following re-election as World Rugby’s chairman earlier this month, Bill Beaumont pledged cooperation with the clubs as part of an aligned global calendar but the letter signed by Childs and Goze outlines how they have asked the game’s governing body to be part of the decision-making process several times and claimed their requests were not taken into account.
World Rugby, meanwhile, says the RFU and the France federation have said they would prefer to deal with the leagues directly and insists the Premiership and Top 14 will be consulted over moving the July tours to October. A statement read: “In the event that there is necessary reorganisation of the international calendar to mitigate the significant competition and financial impact of Covid-19 on national unions, any remodelling will be undertaken in full consultation with all stakeholders.”
The Premiership clubs are waiting on guidelines from the DCMS before finalising plans to return to training after the government advised that sporting events can resume as of June 1st.
The Premiership’s best-scenario for restarting matches is late June – though July is more likely as players will need at least four weeks of full training before the league can begin. It is thought, however, that they will begin gradually in small groups depending on the DCMS protocols.
Elsewhere, Andrea Pinchen has replaced Simon Cohen as Leicester's chief executive. Cohen has left the post with immediate effect after 15 years at the club with Pinchen, formerly chief operating officer, taking over. "[ANDREA] brings huge passion, commitment and energy to the club and was the board's unanimous choice," said Leicester's chairman Peter Tom. "We are sure she will be a great success in her new role and we wish her every success."