What’s more important to a rugby player? Playing for the professional club that pays him so well, or representing the country he loves (supposedly, as long as he’s not country hopping to find a place to play).
This question has dogged the Rugby Universe since the game went professional in the mid-90’s, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon – thanks to Premier Rugby and what appears at first glance to be an effort to weaken non-English International teams with players lucky enough to play in the Premiership.
Earlier this month, Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland took Premier Rugby to task for not releasing players for the 2011 Rugby World Cup before the mandatory 35 days prior to the tournament’s start. While British players based in England can be released at any time, and the same for Welsh players in playing professionally in Wales.
This is ridiculous.
While on the surface it looks like it might be fair as long as teams stay in their home country, this rule neglects the fact that many of the professional rugby teams are stationed in England, and they tap into much of the international talent out there. To deny national teams some of their top talent does nothing more than artificially weaken teams that England might be playing.
This also means that those foreign-based players based in England might end up missing out on playing in the World Cup, if they are not released in time to get in enough valuable practice time with their team.
Country vs. Club has been a debate in rugby for a while. If there was a dedicated “professional rugby season” that would work in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere (possibly a Spring in the Northern Hemisphere/Fall in Southern Hemisphere) and vice versa for the “International Season.” This way both professional and international obligations can be met, and the summers and winters are set aside for players to recover.
Now it’s up to the International Rugby Board to step up and realize that there’s more to rugby than just the England National Team…