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It's getting messy - Premiership row over player access for World Cup escalates

By Nathaniel Cope
Warren Gatland, Faf de Klerk and Gregor Townsend (Getty Images)

Premiership bosses are not backing down in the insurance row over player access ahead of the World Cup.


As it stands players are only allowed to be released during official international windows, which for the Rugby World Cup means just 35 days before the tournament starts on September 20th.

Premiership Rugby Limited don’t want to release players any earlier because of insurance issues. At the moment the maximum compensation for a player injured on international duty is £225,000, even if his salary is more than that amount and the insurance only covers 12-months. The Guardian say that this limit has been bumped up to £350,000, but the PRL want no limits set, and also want coverage beyond the current 12-month limit for those players whose injuries last longer.

The Guardian report that PRL have escalated things by writing to World Rugby “giving it 21 days to agree to major changes to its regulations that govern player insurance or face a legal battle”.

If the Premiership remain steadfast in their resolve not to budge, it could prove disastrous for World Cup preparations of several teams including Scotland, Wales, Italy, the Pacific Island nations and South Africa.

Premiership boss Mark McCafferty explained the situation to the BBC: “There are limits (World Rugby) put either on the salary of the player (£225,000) – and there are a lot of players above that salary – or the term of the injury (12 months). Those kind of limitations, we think, are false and unfair.

“If a player is earning X, then that is his cost to the club, or if he is off for longer than a year, then the liability should be covered. That is what exists in football, that’s what the Lions cover for us when the players are away on a Lions tour, it’s what the Barbarians do as well.


“So we don’t understand why there should be any difference in terms of World Rugby. We could be flexible, but the limitations have to be lifted, because it is not reasonable for a club to have to pick up that kind of cost liability when a player has been injured on international duty. There is no logic in that.”

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Among those who could be most affected are Scotland, who face what could be a Pool A decider against Ireland in their opening match, on Sunday 22nd. Gregor Townsend had nine Premiership players in his Autumn international squad, while their talismanic full back Stuart Hogg is due to join Exeter Chiefs this summer, albeit he may have a clause in his contract. Ireland on the other hand only use players under their central contract system and will have far longer to prepare for the match with Scotland.

Wales have several of their prominent players in the Premiership too, Dan Biggar at Northampton, Toby Faletau, Luke Charteris and Rhys Priestland at Bath, Liam Williams at Saracens, Tomas Francis at Exeter Chiefs, while Worcester Warriors winger Josh Adams, who is out of contract in the summer, may be playing for a Welsh-based side by then. Wales are having a summer training camp in Switzerland in July and no Premiership-based player would be permitted to participate as it stands.


Fiji would potentially be without the likes of Leicester’s Campese Ma’afu, Newcastle Falcons trio Tevita Cavubati, Nemani Nagusa and Vereniki Goneva, while London Irish prop Manasa Saulo may be in the Premiership should they secure promotion.

Samoa would also be hit severely – Newcastle Falcons’ Logovi’i Mulipola, a large contingent at Bristol Bears including Jack Lam, Tusi Pisi, Alapati Leiua, Jordan Lay and Northampton Saints’ Ahsee Tuala, while there were four London Irish players in the recent Samoan November squad – TJ Ioane, Ofisa Treviranus, Filo Paulo and Motu Matu’u.

Tonga’s preparations would be dented by the absence of their captain Siale Piutau, of Bristol Bears, Newcastle Falcons halfback Sonatane Takulua, Saracens flanker Sione Vailanu and Leicester Tigers backrow duo Sione Kalamafoni and Valentino Mapapalangi.

There are also sizeable contingents of players from South Africa, Georgia, Russia and Italy playing in the Premiership, among others.

Southern Hemisphere teams competing in the Rugby Championship will have the advantage of having an extra official window to prepare close to the World Cup, with the Rugby Championship set to begin on July 20th, however the Guardian point out that there will be a period of time between the two international windows, so the likes of Sale’s Faf de Klerk, Wasps’ Willie Le Roux and Gloucester’s Franco Mostert could be in limbo.

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