Conrad Smith questions whether player welfare is priority amid gruelling schedule

Conrad Smith questions whether player welfare is priority amid gruelling schedule

Former All Black and current head of player welfare and high performance at the International Rugby Players, Conrad Smith, questioned the priorities of the game amidst a gruelling player schedule.

Some players essentially have a 12-month schedule between their club and country commitments, leaving them unable to satisfy World Rugby's regulation nine that states "should have appropriate rest, recuperation and recovery opportunities."

Negotiations around the global calendar continue in London next week, where Smith will take part as a voice for the players who are tired of "commerciality" being prioritised over them.

"If player welfare is the priority, whatever is decided that has to be the number one," Smith said. "As soon as we don't, don't say player welfare is the priority, say commerciality is. Players are getting tired of it.

"Reg 9 mentions rest, rehabilitation and recovery, but it doesn't specify when that should be seen. All it does is tell players when they need to go from clubs to international teams. We think it should also include when players have their rest periods, which it doesn't at the moment.

"That's left up to unions - some do it, because they can for their own players - but there are international players who are left with no recovery or rest time as in their rest time they play in an international competition.

"That needs to be addressed as it is leaving some players with no rest period across a 12-month calendar, which in a contact sport is crazy.

"We want a minimum [rest period] for every player. No one should be arguing with that - but with the current way things are, that's not what is seen because it's not written anywhere, so the players fall through the gaps.

"We now have South Africa - a well-established nation - with players playing in the URC, effectively a northern hemisphere competition, but they have a southern hemisphere union who play in the Rugby Championship. It's just not working."

Another point of concern is the gap between tier one and tier two nations which could grow with the Nations Championship should it be adopted, as it would not allow promotion/relegation until 2030.

This would mean teams from the two tiers would not play against each during that period which is a great "fear".

"If we're going to have a competition with effectively two divisions, we can't have them ring-fenced," Smith said.

"If you don't have regular games it's really hard for their players to only be consigned to playing Challenger teams. When promotion and relegation comes along [maybe in 2030], it might be too late. If we're having six years with no [tier 1 v tier 2] games in that time, which is what is being talked about, that is our biggest fear. The players do not want a competition where they are worse off."