Approximately one quarter of surveyed Test players have been pressured by their clubs not to turn out for their respective national teams and, probably as a consequence, more than half think internationals should not be played outside the official Test window.
These were the results of a survey conducted by IRP, the “official representative body for professional rugby players”, in October and November on over 350 internationals from all 20 of the countries that have qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“The survey highlighted the issue of player release, with almost a quarter of players surveyed admitting they had been put under pressure by their club not to play for their country. Of that, 40% had succumbed to this pressure,” said an IRP press release.
This is an issue that is sure to become more prevalent in the coming years as SA Rugby switches to a match-fees model for paying Springboks, while Rassie Erasmus has been given free rein to select overseas-based players.
The move is sure to flood Europe with lots of South African talent, perhaps with the twin intention of driving down the value of offers while increasing the risk to club owners that members of their foreign legion will regularly be called up for Test duty.
Judging from the survey, players do not want to be stuck in the middle of this tug of war – they’d prefer World Rugby to set and enforce the boundaries so that they can maximise their earning potential from club and country without every having to be the bad guy.
But it won’t be long before club owners make the players choose between signing a big-money contract on the proviso that they officially retire from international rugby, or accept a lesser deal to remain available for Test call-ups.
The survey also revealed that 45% of players had been pressured to play or train when not fully fit, while one third missed at least six matches last season due to injury.
“Players are highlighting player load as a real issue and talking about being overburdened in training or playing too many matches,” said IRP chief Omar Hassanein.
In the South African context, the players’ call for a lesser load is contradicted by many choosing to spend their offseason playing rugby in Japan.
A similar dichotomy revealed itself in questions related to safety matters. Feedback that players had been pressured, presumably by coaches, to play or train when not fully fit is counterbalanced by the admission that players can’t be trusted to be honest about the symptoms of concussion-related injuries.
“The fact that some players felt the need to hide symptoms of a head knock so that they can start the return-to-play protocols means authorities have to take the decisions out of the hands of players,” said IRP spokesman, Rob Nichol.
— Staff Writer