English rugby tries to tackle players’ welfare amid compressed seasons

English rugby tries to tackle players’ welfare amid compressed seasons

The Professional Game Board, which incorporates representatives of the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players Association among others, has outlined initiatives to protect player welfare for the current season and the 2020-21 campaign.

England players will be given a one-week break after they have played Italy in the Six Nations on 31 October and a further two weeks off following their return to club rugby in December.

For the current Premiership campaign, no player can feature in more than 180 minutes if selected in the match-day 23 on three occasions in a week and no player can start three games in the space of a week. Between 14 August and 13 September, a player cannot be selected in more than six matches and a player’s training load will be managed if they are in three match-day squads during a seven-day period.

Clubs will give players three weeks off at the end of the Premiership season but those in the play-off final will only be able to offer their squad a two-and-a-half-week break. The finalists will forgo pre-season friendlies, as will any sides in a European final, and will have just one and a half weeks to prepare for round one of the 2020-21 campaign, which will start on 20 November and conclude with the play-off final on 26 June.

A game-wide mental health monitoring programme will also be launched and will be available for all players.

The Premiership Rugby Shield, contested by a mixture of first-team squad members and academy players, has for now been put on hold for next season though this decision will be reviewed.

Phil Winstanley, Premiership Rugby’s rugby director, said: “Working closely with the RFU, RPA and a number of senior players and coaches, we have collaborated to produce player welfare initiatives for both seasons. No two players are the same and we need to allow the directors of rugby to manage these individual needs but within a framework we’re all comfortable with.”

The RFU’s director of performance, Conor O’Shea, added: “All parties have approached this acknowledging the challenges we all face but also understanding everyone would need to compromise. We have had extensive discussions across the game but most importantly with the players, Eddie [Jones, the England coach] and a number of directors of rugby. Through this we have reached a really positive solution. We will constantly review and monitor all players, especially those who carry the greatest load. We have managed to marry the scientific with the practicality of the challenge.”

Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the RPA, said: “The next 12 months will be the most arduous playing schedule ever undertaken by the players, clubs and England. All stakeholders have worked collaboratively to agree essential player welfare initiatives in these extraordinary circumstances. We recognise the duty of care that the clubs and RFU have for the players and we will all continue to work closely with the medical and strength and conditioning experts to monitor individual player load throughout the challenging schedule that lies ahead.”