The world’s leading players have called for a seat on World Rugby’s executive committee, hitting out at the sport’s governing body for ignoring their views.
World Rugby will hold summit meetings in Dublin on Thursday, where their Nations Championship plans are expected to be torpedoed by Six Nations bosses.
In addition to that anticipated hammer blow for the Nations Championship, however, International Rugby Players has now voiced further concerns ahead of the key meetings.
“We want to ensure that there will be no repeat of the current situation and that the frustrations over the lack of player consultation are addressed,” said Wales captain and British & Irish Lions star Jones.
“It’s in the interest of our game that World Rugby and the unions convene with the playing population so that proper solutions can be agreed.
“Players having a genuine, and greater say, can’t be undervalued.”
Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Kieran Read voiced serious concerns over World Rugby’s Nations Championship plans just two weeks ago, in IRP’s first concerted mobilisation against the proposed radical Test arena shake-up.
World Rugby want to launch their Nations Championship contest by 2022, with the top performers from the Six Nations and an expanded six-team Rugby Championship facing off to determine an annual cross-hemisphere winner.
England captain Farrell, Ireland talisman Sexton and New Zealand stalwart Read all insisted the players’ views had not been fully accounted in terms of grave reservations that top stars would be subjected to too much Test rugby.
Now Wales second row Jones and Australia back-rower Hooper have added further clout to those frustrations, and called on World Rugby to formalise interaction with the game’s leading players.
The players’ council of IRP held a conference call on Tuesday night to thrash out their way forward, and the result has been these new demands of the game’s power brokers.
“We want to be part of key decisions in the game, however at the moment we don’t have a proper seat at the table to exert any influence,” said Wallabies skipper Hooper.
“Players understand, better than anyone, what happens at the coal face and how certain decisions impact both the players and the broader game, so it would be counterproductive to cast the player view aside.
“Moving forward we want to ensure that the players have independently appointed representation on the World Rugby executive committee and other key World Rugby decision-making bodies.”
World Rugby’s Nations Championship plans include drafting in promotion and relegation for the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship.
Six Nations chiefs remain opposed to that inception, and that could prove the undoing of World Rugby’s suggested Test game shake-up.
The Six Nations could pool TV rights from their own competition and the autumn Tests to offer significant funding boosts to the top northern hemisphere unions.
Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners is in the frame to take a minor stake in the Six Nations, and that scenario could prove the ultimate sticking point for the World Rugby blueprint.
“The players feel that the existing understanding between World Rugby and the Players should evolve from a loose commitment to consult, to a requirement to reach agreement on certain key issues,” said former South Africa captain Jean De Villiers.
“The feeling on the call was that it is no longer appropriate for World Rugby and the unions to determine tournament structures, logistics and tournament terms of participation without getting to an agreed outcome with players.”
They had absolutely dominated, laying waste to pretty much anyone who stood in their way.
But Bahrain endured a far more nervous night in order to earn west Asia glory on Friday, requiring the last kick of the game to decide their 2018/19 campaign.
Having won 14 of 15 games in the West Asia Premiership during the campaign, they were rightfully champions. Louie Tonkin’s side, however, really ran the gauntlet in the final – claiming a narrow 23-21 win over Dubai Exiles on their home patch.
Exiles scored a try in the final move of the match in Saar but, even though Durandt Gerber missed the ensuing conversion that would have taken the game to extra time, he would have another chance to win the game outright from 50 yards following a red card for the home side’s Jack Phillips in the act of Michael Stubbs’ last-gasp try.
Winger Stubbs was hit high as he crossed for the critical score and because Phillips saw red following the ensuing melee, the laws of the game state that Exiles had two shots at goal – one from the conversion, out wide where the try was scored, and the second a penalty kick from the halfway line.
South African fly-half Gerber dragged his conversion to send the game to an extra period wide but then looked to have sent the three-pointer – to win Exiles the game – over the bar, only for a consultation between the officials to clarify the ball had dropped just under the crossbar.
It meant joy and relief for the hosts and heartbreak for Exiles and Gerber, who had converted a penalty from halfway for his side earlier in the game.
“Well that was madness, a 23-21 Bahrain win,” Exiles’ Northern Irish lock Stephen Ferguson told Sport360 following a brilliantly bizarre end to the top-flight season in UAE rugby.
“But not without a big call at the end and not without incident. We scored in the corner to make it 23-21. Du to kick to level and go to extra time.
“In the act of us scoring their centre hit our winger high and got a red card. So we would restart with a penalty.
“Du missed our conversion first but then we opt to kick our penalty from halfway to win.
“It was on target and just under the bar supposedly even though a few of their guys thought it was over. Fair play, an unreal final and the Bahrain lads, all great guys, will be buzzing but probably with a sour taste as it was so close.
“We’ll take a lot from that into the UAE Premiership semi-final and build going forward.”
The game had followed the same script as the league season early on with Bahrain leading 20-6 early in the second half after two tries from centre Phillips and a faultless kicking display from Ross Preedy.
Peter Killian’s pushover try got Exiles back in it with 15 minutes left, but Leon Mauer’s penalty appeared to have settle it when he made it 23-13.
But Gerber hit back with his own three-pointer and he and Ed Armitage then provided the space for Stubbs to squeeze over and create the most dramatic of endings.
“All I have to say is fair play to Exiles, an amazing performance from them,” said Bahrain’s Scottish hooker Lindsay Gibson.
“They’re the only team to come here this season and cause us problems, but I’m glad our consistency over the whole season was rewarded with the West Asia title.”
New Zealand captain Kieran Read will bow out from Test rugby after the World Cup later this year.
The Crusaders number eight, who has won 118 caps and played in two All Blacks World Cup-winning teams, has confirmed he will leave New Zealand and join Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.
Read, 33, has skippered New Zealand 43 times, including in the drawn Test series against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.