The idea of moving the Northern Hemisphere season into the summer has been mooted for some time, but would it actually benefit European teams? Here we take a look at seven of the reasons as to why a move to summer rugby could help improve the club game in the Northern Hemisphere…
1.The Global Calendar
By moving the European season into the summer months, the Northern and Southern Hemisphere seasons would be able to run side-by-side throughout the year. This would help to remove a number of the current issues pertaining to international availability and disruption of club competitions. Essentially there could be two international windows at the beginning and end of the season which would mean the north could tour the south and vice versa without players being taken away from club duties. The Six Nations and Rugby Championship could remain in the middle of the season as normal.
The synchronising of the global rugby calendar would also help to open up the possibility of club teams from each hemisphere playing each other at various points. For example the winner of the European Champions Cup could play out a game against the winner of Super Rugby in a kind of World Club game. The move would also make the scheduling of the World Cup easier as it could succinctly fit in before either hemispheres season kicks off rather than disrupting club competitions like the 2015 incarnation will.
It’s no coincidence that we see swathes of tries at the beginning and end of the season. The simple fact is that by playing in drier conditions players are able to throw the ball around more readily which opens up try scoring opportunities across the field. There’s no doubting that for all but the most ardent rugby fans seeing free-flowing rugby with plenty of tries is the most exciting part of the game. This style of rugby is also more likely to help draw in passive rugby fans and those who haven’t before seen the game as it is undoubtedly more exciting to watch.
Whilst I hear traditionalists cry out about the potential loss of scrums and mauls, I actually believe if anything it may help improve the set piece. Now obviously the key problem with collapsed scrums and mauls is players deliberately dragging them down, however by playing on firmer grounds there’s a much better chance of the scrums staying up naturally which can only help improve this aspect of the game. For this reason I think a move to playing on drier surfaces would benefit both traditionalists and new fans and thereby help to grow the game.
One of the biggest issues facing many clubs in Europe is attracting big enough attendance every week for the side to break even. A move to summer rugby may help improve attendances somewhat by taking rugby out of direct competition with round ball teams. This issue is particularly prevalent in England, Italy and Scotland, but is also no doubt affecting sides in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well. With rugby teams playing during different periods of the year to football teams it would make it much easier to attract passive fans who otherwise may be otherwise engaged at football games.
Now this would put union in direct competition with rugby’s other code, however given League attracts much smaller attendances than football it would likely be much less of an issue. League also tends to be played in different areas of the countries to union so there’s no reason the two codes couldn’t work in tandem. Rugby League attendances in England don’t seem to have been affected by the move to summer rugby as they regularly outperform attendances across Union.
I’m sure some will disagree, but for me there is much more enjoyment in attending a game in mild conditions where there is little to no threat of rain. There’s just something about sitting or standing watching a great game of rugby in shorts and flip flops whilst supping on a cold pint that seems incredibly appealing. Whilst I will always go and watch my team whatever the conditions, there’s something somewhat less appealing about being soaked on the way to the ground before sitting around in five layers in the freezing cold that seems slightly less appealing.
Like me, I’m sure many of you reading this would happily watch your team in a hail storm, however there’s no doubting that many casual observers of the game would be much more likely to attend in more amenable conditions. This particular point became apparent when I attended a T20 cricket match over the summer where many of the spectators there weren’t necessarily cricket fans but had come out as they enjoyed watching live sport and wanted to make the most of a warm summers evening.
Let’s face it, for as long as most can remember, Southern Hemisphere teams have dominated international rugby, bar during a few short-lived periods such as England’s 2003 World Cup triumph. No now doubt some of this success is down to superior coaching and the ability of teams like the All Blacks to select from the best sportsmen their country has to offer. However, I believe a large part of this is down to the conditions these teams regularly play in.
From a young age players in the Southern Hemisphere are used to playing in relatively dry conditions where they are taught to play the ball through hands and often spend years playing touch rugby rather than focussing on physicality like in the Northern Hemisphere. By moving rugby to the summer months, teams in the Northern Hemisphere could instead focus more of their efforts on developing players ball handling skills which may (or may not) help them better compete with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa.
Do you think Northern Hemisphere teams should consider a move to summer rugby?