The home nations and France are facing the prospect of having to travel to their summer tours in 2014 shorn of their best players. With domestic finals the weekend before the first tests, players from England, Wales, France and Ireland involved in these finals would not be available in time for the first game on tour.
England will be forced to field a severely weakened side for the first test in next summer’s three game series in New Zealand, after the IRB ruled that the series could not be delayed by a week. Wales and Ireland face similar situations, if their teams are involved in the RaboDirect PRO12 final, while any French players involved in the Top 14 final will also miss their first test against Australia.
England play three matches against New Zealand on the tour – on 7th, 14th and 21st June – but with the Premiership Final on May 31st, and players not able to fly out until the next day, anyone involved in it will not be available in time for the first test.
Ireland also play the first of two tests against Argentina on the 7th, with the RaboDirect PRO12 final also falling on May 31st. They have also had an appeal to the IRB turned down. Wales are yet to announce the dates of their two tests against South Africa, so may be able to avoid the issue if they can move them back a week.
Stuart Lancaster is understood to be deeply frustrated with the situation – with test game time rapidly running out in the lead up to RWC 2015, he would have wanted his group of players together for the whole series.
An England spokesman, quoted in The Times, said: “Because of the Premiership final, England will, due to restricted training time and jet lag recovery protocol, be without certain players for the first match. While this situation is not perfect, it is an opportunity for a wider group of England players to put a marker down.”
So, imagine last year’s Premiership finalists (Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints) make it to the showpiece event at Twickenham again in 2014; these are the players that would be missing from England’s squad (should it reflect the current one):
Quite an absentee list, for what is already the most difficult fixture in international rugby. The situation for Ireland could be even worse – with their players effectively coming from three provinces, if two of them were to make it to the final (not a particularly unlikely scenario, given their relative strengths) the national team would be almost unrecognisable.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images