Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Playing with future health of the game

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All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Captain Kieran Read and Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images
All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Captain Kieran Read and Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images

Only the IRB could fail to see the maddening exclusivity of the set-up. The council of the game's governing body were locked in one basement room of a London hotel on Tuesday. Around the table were florid faces and expansive frames, there to try to agree on whether to shift the current June test window to July.

In the room next to them were Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock. Both were sporting a few facial abrasions, the scars accumulated from another marathon season. The focus for the two All Blacks was the looming epic encounter with England - the 13th test of a season that began in mid-February and will only end next week in Dublin.

For the committee men next door, the focus appeared to be on a rather splendid lunch that was wheeled in before the door slammed and security blocked the way.

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Frankly, it was ludicrous. Blokes in suits who either played the game a lifetime ago or never even went near it, trying to determine what is best for the modern player.

The suits talk as if they have a handle on it, when patently they don't. Why didn't just one pop their head round the other door and hear Read say about the vexed issue of a global season: "Potentially it would be great if we could align a lot better at some point within that framework. I don't think I would have too much sway in there [next door].

"They need to take into account the lengths of the seasons is what I would say. And probably just make sure they are doing it for the right reasons and playing for the right reasons. You do that when you are fresh and when you want to be playing."

Simple. But no one did pop their head round the door and hope of a positive result is limited - a situation not helped by New Zealand's compromised stance.

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Those IRB delegates have heard from New Zealand players, coaches and administrators for several years that the season is too long; that international stars have to play too much. The New Zealand Rugby Union has been a leader on player welfare issues - a big advocate of extending the off-season so players can rest for longer.

And yet for all that they plead fatigue and burnout, they continue to hunt for extra tests outside of the official window.

This year it was Japan, next year it will be the US and the other IRB delegates must wonder if the New Zealand contingent think they are soft in the head.

The NZRU can't be so nakedly commercial and preach player welfare in the same breath. And the IRB can't be so aloof and arrogant as to sit 10 metres from two of the game's best assets and not give two hoots what they think about season structure.

But after the splendid lunch, no doubt came the port and the brandy, a few more snifters over the road at the Goat Tavern and who cares anyway?

- NZ Herald

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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