Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall has expressed major concerns over the workload that international players are subject to.
McCall has witnessed first-hand the impact of a busy schedule for players, with the likes of Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Owen Farrell coming off the back of a British & Irish Lions tour and into a busy domestic and European calendar with Saracens, followed by a three-Test June series in South Africa with England.
In an exclusive interview with Jim Hamilton at the recent Premiership launch, McCall believes that it could lead to a shortening of careers if something isn’t done.
“It is the international players that ‘A’ tend to play most and ‘B’ tend to get the smallest pre-season’s and off-season’s. We think that the playing programmes are OK.
“Our issue is these are the players – who in terms of their physical development windows – get the smallest windows. They come back to the club at the end of July or the start of August and they are playing rugby by September and everyone else is getting 10 weeks and they are getting 4-5 weeks to physically develop and eventually that is going to catch-up and we’ve got to find a way to give them some longer off-season’s and longer pre-season’s, or we’re just going to reduce the length of their careers.
“It is the very, very best players who need the best protection.”
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In March last year World Rugby announced a deal over a global rugby calendar which will come into force in 2020. It retains the current international windows for the Rugby Championship and Six Nations, but the June internationals will be moved to July, while the November international window will be brought forward by a week. World Rugby has said it’s with player welfare in mind, but McCall has reservations about it.
“There is a changing season about to progress and go into motion after the World Cup, whether that helps the international players I am not sure yet. It is going to break up the Premiership season, there is going to be less conflicts with Premiership games and international games, but whether it is going to help the international players and some of the issues that exists with them I am not sure yet.”
He knows first-hand how injuries take their toll, last season Saracens struggled for periods of time, including a seven-match losing run before Christmas.
“We definitely had an injury rate which affected us at times (last season). The international windows are always challenging for us and we felt we had recruited a squad that would be very competitive during those international windows, but a lot of those players Vincent Koch, Michael Rhodes, Will Skelton broke his arm, injuries to the players that we couldn’t afford”
Defending Premiership champions Saracens have won the domestic title in three of last four seasons. They’ve only brought in three new players, London Irish duo Alex Lewington and Tom Woolstencroft, while David Strettle returns from Clermont and McCall points to the reasons for club’s consistency.
“The success that Saracens has enjoyed over the last eight years has been down to some of the continuity that there has been, with the staff and playing group. I think having a settled group can go one of two ways, you can get too comfortable and you take shortcuts and you go through the motions, then I think it is a bad thing. But if you have continuity and with a settled group that are also motivated and hungry and want to get better then it can be phenomenal and hopefully we have the latter and not the former”, he said.
“Most of the senior players are young, it is incredible to think that people here driving the club are 26 or 27 years old who want more. it is a World Cup year and they are individually motivated as well, so fingers crossed that combination of continuity and stability and the motivation that exists within the group will take us somewhere.”
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