Premiership Rugby’s new season structure has been packaged as a progressive move to improve player welfare but it could have a damaging effect on players mentally.
I’m sure there are some good intentions behind the measures, which include the introduction of formal rest periods and limiting players to a maximum of 35 match involvements in a season, but to extend the length of the season is not a good move for me.
Players need an extended break in the off-season to get away from rugby completely and playing rugby in 11 months of the year just doesn’t sit right with me.
Players can get mentally burned out as well as affected physically and I think it puts more of a load on them in that department if they’re having to play from September through to July.
It is true that it could have a positive effect physically if it comes to pass that players do play fewer games as a result but I fear it’ll have a negative impact mentally on players because the season will be such a marathon.
It is great that there are going to be “guaranteed in-season breaks” but the reality is that most of the top players get these anyway around the Premiership Rugby Cup weeks.
And, it’s all very well giving players weeks off here and there during the season but they’re still going to have to train the house down a lot of the time in order to keep their competitive edge.
I would have taken it as gospel but if you tell a player nowadays to take a week off during the season, go away on holiday and not train at all or think about rugby, I’d say 99 per cent of them will do some sort of training so it isn’t really a down week and it certainly isn’t a mental break.
My main concern is that I think it goes against what’s good for players in terms of their mental health but I don’t think it goes far enough in terms of restricting the number of games players will play either.
Peter O’Mahony said last month that “rugby has got to the stage where it’s going to be difficult to play 30 games a year” and these new measures are only limiting players to a maximum of 35 match involvements.
Let’s not forget that the intensity and physicality of the sport has gone through the roof and is still increasing as boys train harder in the gym and push the boundaries further and further.
If you speak to a strength and conditioning coach about the power of the players now compared to four or five years ago, they’ll tell you it’s increased a huge amount across the board.
If we’re talking about the number of games, I’d like to see them set the absolute limit for anyone at 30 and enforce that.
Just looking at the number of games players are taking part in is too simplistic as well because what those games involve is so different now. The laws mean that the ball in play time is much higher and a game now is probably equivalent to a game and a half five years ago.
And, it’s not just the games that take their toll on players either, it’s the training. It’s tough to control how much contact training players at different clubs take part in and what’s considered contact training by different coaches.
Even in supposed non-contact sessions I’ve been in certain situations where a coach will say stick your shoulder in and that means a full on smash to some players, whereas to me it means two-handed touch!
Traditionally, Tuesday has been a big smash and bash day at certain clubs and we’ve seen a lot of injuries at full contact and wrestling sessions with England as well. You can’t really control what training teams are doing and it does worry me that players will be training more because of the extended season.
The devil is in the detail and I don’t think we’ve seen it all yet in terms of when the rest periods will be and when the Premiership, Champions Cup, Premiership Rugby Cup and other competitions will actually be played.
At the moment, if you’re a top international star playing for a successful club side, you come straight back from the Six Nations and have one weekend before a European quarter-final. So, in that respect, if you can spread out those high intensity games a bit more, that can only be a good thing.
However, I think there’ll be very mixed reviews from the players when more opinions come to light in due course because a lot weren’t happy when the suggestion was first floated. Tom Youngs even said that the thought of a 10-month campaign “fills players with dread”.
Joe Marler recently retired from international rugby because he didn’t want to be away from his family for so much of the year and playing so much rugby. I don’t think this new plan would help in his situation and other players will feel a similar way I’m sure.
I think players are still a bit confused at the moment about exactly what’s going to happen but if I was still playing and heard this news, I’d be looking 11 months ahead at the start of a season and thinking I could be mentally shot to pieces by the end.
Everyone is trying to work towards a global calendar and have been doing for as long as anyone can remember. The Premiership have made their move and it’ll be interesting to see how this fits in with the PRO14 and Southern Hemisphere competitions when more precise details come to light.
People talk all the time about the physical effects on rugby players but the mental impact is just as important and that’s where this new plan is flawed for me.
The intention to restrict the number of games players have to play is a noble one but I don’t think this goes far enough and mental burnout is going to be a massive issue.
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