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England Rugby Union News

Senior rugby players concerned about season extension plans


Premiership Rugby announced in March 2017 new plans to lengthen the season to 10 months from 2019-2020 onwards, in order to reduce the overlap between international and domestic rugby. The new season extension concept has already been widely criticized by leading club directors of rugby who voiced their opposition to the proposed concept and some senior players on welfare grounds. "My view is that longer isn't better," said Saracens chief Mark McCall. "Let's look for a different way, a smarter way, to look after the competing demands."

"I understand the concerns the players have, and they are concerns we as a club would have as well, added Gloucester boss David Humphries. "My own view is that it's difficult to lengthen it beyond where we are at, and yet retain that quality of competition throughout the season." Premiership Rugby says the new structure will allow for more frequent rest periods during the season. "I understand the principle of the global season and aligning the northern and southern hemisphere in terms of tours and dates, but I think we need to be very, very careful," Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has warned. "It's not just the physical load, it's the mental as well. Even if you have a week or so off in the season, it is not the same as stopping and not playing for a certain amount of time." There is a lack of agreement within the English rugby union group, with club chairmen making decisions for commercial reasons that are not supported by coaches and players who voiced concerns about the physical and mental impact of extending Premiership season.

England rugby captain Dylan Hartley has supported other senior internationals, including Billy Vunipola, that have concers for the welfare of players and the increased strain that will be put on them. It is believed that the rugby players may go on strike if a compromise cannot be found. "By extending the season, you are only going to get mentally and physically drained players," Hartley said. "I think the guys need adequate rest, and I don't think extending the season helps that. I haven't seen the structure of it to comment any further, but my gut instinct is to say that player welfare is paramount, because without the players we don't have a game." The proposal has already been rejected by the Rugby Players' Association, whose chairman Christian Day warned about the physical and mental impact if the rugby season is extended.

"You can't just talk about minutes played because 40 minutes for a tired prop could be 80 minutes for a winger in terms of contact and physical stress on the body,” said Day. "Mental strain, you can't even measure that. How do you measure someone becoming clinically depressed because they're weekend after weekend taking a battering. As a contact sport, there is no other sport in the world that plays a longer season than we do at the moment, so why would we go longer." Day was asked about a possible player's strike. "I've been involved with the RPA for six to seven years and I've never come across anything that made me think a strike was possible," replied Day. "This is the first time I've seen a proposal with no positives for the players, so why would we agree to it?" Popular Billy Vunipola is one of a number of leading rugby union players to voice their opposition to the proposed extended season post-2019.

England and Saracens No8 Billy Vunipola commented about rugby player welfare and pay cuts. Vunipola said he would take a pay cut to play less rugby and believes players are at risk of "burning out". Vunipola learned on Sunday he will be out for four months after injuring a knee during Sarries' victory against Sale. Twenty-four-year-old Vunipola only recently returned after a year plagued by knee and shoulder problemsthat kept  him out of the British & Irish Lions tour. Speaking prior to his latest setback, he said "something has to change".

"I didn't enjoy being on the surgery table twice in one year and that's supposed to be deemed as normal," commented Vunipola who has played 34 times for England. "Kids want to play rugby because it's fun, but they also need to know that it's tough, and it's normal to have surgery at 25 because you're so worn down. I'm not complaining, I just want people to understand that having surgery is not fun, and it's not fun being injured. It gets to a point when you are just done, and you can't control when your knee goes out or your shoulder comes out. That was the weirdest feeling I've ever had in my life, not being able to control that and prevent it from happening. So something probably needs to change, or the players will just burn out."

Vunipola was asked if he would consider a pay cut in return for playing fewer games. Vunipola replied: "Yes." England's elite players are limited to 32 games per season, but Vunipola says recovering from a match can take up to five days. "Thirty-two games is a lot, but it's doable," said Vunipola. "But do you want people to just do it, or do you want people to go out there and smash it?" Vunipola was expected to play a leading role for the British & Irish Lions in last summer’s New Zealand tour, but was forced to pull out of the tour because of an ongoing shoulder problem. He says missing the tour has given him a fresh perspective. "I never used to be grateful for being on these tours. I kind of took it for granted. Missing the Lions made me be grateful for going on these tours,” said Vunipola. When I was on holiday, all I wanted to do was be on tour. So now, if ever I'm on tour, I'll never sit there and be negative."

Vunipola revealed he only started drinking alcohol last year, and is still learning how to deal with it. "After I did my knee against Argentina, and went through a tough break-up with my ex, I needed something to take my mind off it," said Vunipola. "So I drank that night at England's team hotel Pennyhill for the first time ever. I just never got into it before, and it took a massive change in my life to bring it on. I was always adamant I was never going to drink. I'm still learning my limits, but it's something I do with the boys." Vunipola was asked what he will do when he retires “I'd like to be a plumber or electrician,” he responded. It's something I think will be the closest environment to a rugby environment.  Life after rugby will come. A lot of people are scared of it, but my philosophy after rugby is 'just try'." Vunipola moved to the United Kingdom with his family at the age of six, but he still considers himself Tongan first.

"Both my parents are Tongan, my culture was fully invested in Tonga," said Vunipola. "I'm here now, and I obviously embrace it, but I'm not going to sit here and say I'm born and bred English, because I'm not. But I'm very proud to represent us as a country, I have adopted the English culture, and I'd like people to see me as one of their own." Great, 150% guaranteed rugby union tickets for England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France a Italy are for sale now securely online at cheap prices from LiveRugbyTickets.co.uk!

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