Player welfare in the spotlight if Springboks join Six Nations
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The Six Nations are facing a battle to win support from clubs and players for an expanded tournament featuring South Africa.
Sportsmail revealed on Saturday that talks are under way about inviting the Springboks to join a rebooted competition from 2024 — and we can now reveal further details of proposals that would dramatically alter international rugby.
There is a strong feeling among many of the Six Nations that any new tournament must take place within the existing window, which may mollify the clubs but would raise major concerns over player welfare.
Under one draft itinerary for a proposed Seven Nations seen by Sportsmail, the tournament would take place within a seven-week block, with each team getting just one week off.
Teams with byes in the first and last weeks would have to play six matches on successive weekends, and those with byes on match-days two and six would have five games in a row.
The other three nations would be given a
more meaningful break in the middle of the tournament.
Such a lopsided proposed schedule has led to questions over the integrity of the competition, as well as raising issues over player welfare.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton was extremely vocal in his criticism of plans for a new Nations League last year in his role as president of the International Rugby Players Association, arguing that playing Tests in five successive weeks would be ‘potentially harmful’.
The alternative for the Northern Hemisphere unions who run the Six Nations is to seek an extension of the seven-week window, though that would present a complex political challenge. In addition to gaining approval from the Premiership, Pro14 and French clubs, the Six Nations would also require World Rugby to change the regulation that obliges clubs to release players for international duty at certain times.
World Rugby will also come under pressure to resist the expansion of the Six Nations from the New Zealand and Australian unions, who would be reluctant to lose South Africa from the Rugby Championship.
Japan and Fiji would be potential beneficiaries however, as South Africa’s departure would increase their chances of joining a reformed Southern Hemisphere competition.
Premiership clubs will resist any attempts to expand the international window, which is coming under pressure already as shown by the shortening of next year’s British Lions tour from 10 to eight weeks.
South African’s growing interest in the Six Nations was reflected in the presence of World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus at Murrayfield on Saturday.