WELLINGTON – World Rugby's proposed 'League of Nations' competition will kill off interest in the Rugby World Cup, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry warned Friday after a player revolt over the plan.
Henry, who steered New Zealand to World Cup victory in 2011, was dismissive about the blueprint, which will reportedly involve 12 nations playing annually in a competition along the lines of football's UEFA Nations League.
"The players don't want it, they're overplayed now, so it's not going to happen," he told TV3.
Henry predicted rugby's showpiece tournament, which is played once every four years, would not survive if the proposal went ahead.
"It's going to kill the Rugby World Cup because you're going to have a mini-World Cup every year, so people are going to lose interest," he said.
International Rugby Players, the global body representing professional players, has also strongly condemned the plan, with president and reigning world player of the year Johnny Sexton saying it places commercial interests ahead of player safety.
New Zealand players' association chief executive Rob Nichol said players felt they had been "dismissed and disrespected" by World Rugby as it reportedly contemplates a 12-year deal with a major broadcaster to set up the competition.
Aside from player welfare, Nichol said other key concerns were the lack of a promotion-relegation element in the competition and the way it locked out Pacific island nations and emerging powers such as Georgia.
"We're not going to let a commercial land-grab happen here at the expense of player welfare and the integrity of the international game," he told Radio Sport.
'No simple solution'
Pacific Rugby Players chief Aayden Clarke was concerned rugby union would wither in island nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga if they were excluded.
"It's going to have a huge impact," he told stuff.co.nz.
"We're going to see players withdrawing from Test rugby and signing three- to four-year deals with French or UK clubs," he said.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read is among those who have spoken out against the concept and his employer, New Zealand Rugby, moved to assure players Friday that their voice would be heard.
NZR chief Steve Tew said no final decisions had been made and expressed frustration the latest version of the planned competition had leaked less than 24 hours after it was finalised.
“The proposal presented to us at the moment shows no signs of improving this already difficult situation” - @owen_faz— The RPA (@theRPA) February 28, 2019
Leading players highlight ‘major concerns’ around World Rugby’s proposed international calendar.
Read 👉 https://t.co/CORkATzneB#ForOurPlayers #PlayersUnited pic.twitter.com/wU56TDVwgI
Tew said there were a number of fundamentals his organisation would insist on - including a pathway for developing countries, including the Pacific, and no additional workload on players.
"There's no simple solution to this, but New Zealand Rugby remains committed to working through the proposals with the right people in the room," he said.
Tew said World Rugby would discuss the plan at meetings later this month.
World Rugby has refused to confirm leaked details of the competition but insists players' concerns are being addressed.
"Now it's out in the open, I think transparency will be good for the process," Nichol said.
"Provided World Rugby take it on board, maybe with a little bit of humbleness, and reach out to the players to get things back on track."
Agence France-Presse (AFP)