Rugby tours akin to those of the amateur days of the game could well be the future of the code, according to three former All Blacks.

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Speaking to former teammate Jeff Wilson on Sky Sport‘s The Breakdown, All Blacks greats Justin Marshall and Sir John Kirwan supported the notion of reinstating lengthy international tours that would see test teams face off against provincial and clubs sides in mid-week clashes.

The future of rugby around the globe is being assessed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, which has put significant financial pressure on organisations worldwide after the sport came to a standstill midway through last month.

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The economic implications of coronavirus has called into question the feasibility of competitions such as Super Rugby, which is one of many leagues where clubs have had to enforce redundancies and salary slashes to stay afloat.

Super Rugby had already been facing problems in terms of maintaining fan engagement prior to the suspension of the competition, but the pandemic has allowed relevant governing bodies an opportunity to evaluate their shortfalls and assess where improvements can be made once the virus is contained.

New Zealand Rugby announced earlier this week an investigation into the future of Super Rugby, where factors including hefty international travel and a monotonous schedule have contributed to its gradual downfall as the world’s premier club competition.

Wilson suggested a potential solution to help regain fan interest in the sport in the form of old-school tours, whereby the likes of the All Blacks would play in a three-match test series as well as mid-week fixtures against local outfits.

“I look at this as a massive opportunity for not just players but for everyone, fans in particular” Wilson said on Tuesday.

“Surely there would be a hunger to see South Africa come back to New Zealand and play a three-test series?

“I look at ’93, my first tour for the All Blacks. It’s an incredibly special time.

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“I think it was nine or 10 games we played together and I played all but one.”

Both Kirwan and Marshall agreed with Wilson’s sentiments, with both players having experienced tours with the All Blacks during their playing careers.

“I’m always talking about tribalism and tradition. Why is the Lions so successful? Because we look forward to it,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

“I think the future can be about touring because we’re going too many places too often.

“So, if we toured the UK but we only toured England and Ireland, say, but we played mid-week [such as] Munster, maybe Saracens, we would fill those stadiums.

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“Of course, there has to be the old moola in the middle of it, but bring back the old tours to make money, but also re-galvanise us.”

Marshall described the current schedule for top-tier players in New Zealand as “quite repetitive for them, even the international games they’re playing.”

The 81-test former halfback said playing matches against club sides, like the All Blacks did in 2008 when they faced Munster in mid-week clash at Thomond Park in Limerick, would spruce the international calendar up for players and fans alike.

“Those sorts of things are vibrant for the current professional players who get a lot of repetition in their rugby that they play now,” he said.

“The opportunity for them to go somewhere, [to see] what it’s like to play in somewhere like Limerick, which is never an easy place to go.”

Marshall added that tours of that ilk “really brings people together, really brings the community together when they get a touring team, an international team, turning up in a local town.”

Kirwan emphasised the importance of a “less is more” approach to competitions such as Super Rugby, as that would allow room to create special occasions for fans that have been rarely seen in the professional era.

“Cut down Super Rugby, whatever the new one is going to look like,” the former 63-test wing said.

“Leave four or five weekends so you can have North v South, you can go on tour or you can play midweek.

“I think it gives us a better opportunity, not only for the young fellas.

“We always used to know that when we went on tour it was the making of guys. They might have to make nine games.

“They might have to play midweek then back up on Saturday and if they got through that it was like earning a couple of stripes.”

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