Updated: Dec 18, 2020
After this weeks penultimate round of international fixtures, the news coming from the French camp is that they have been refused usage of the majority of their in-country assets. Due to French clubs only permitting their players to play three times internationally during this Autumn Nations Cup, that has meant the threat of legal action has dissuaded Les Bleus from calling up their experienced heads. This all comes in the same year that New Zealand Rugby has announced the sale of their national setup, Exeter Chiefs' Chief Executive Tony Rowe has stated his dissatisfaction of too many Exeter players getting a call up by the England squad, and whilst many have also slated this Autumn internationals period as 'the worst ever' from a watching point of view. Is Rugby becoming Club-led?
We personally believe so... With the Welsh and Irish teams underwhelming this tournament despite having national contracts/in-country rules in place for selection, it's not like the story gets any better for the other sides in the home nations either. Rugby clubs will continuously gain more power and make more crucial decisions as they grow into more sustainable businesses; especially after this pandemic-broken period. With injuries on the increase, controversies risen from over-training, and the club game in the process of potentially transforming into a ring-fenced, Major-League style tournament, it feels like the international setup is becoming more and more redundant/overlooked internally.
You've also got the string of top-quality players retiring early into their international careers e.g. George Kruis, Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marler (temporarily). Whether that's just to prolong their careers or reduce time away from families, I couldn't possibly comment, but this is becoming far more of a regular occurrence as the game evolves.
Our last point, which we hinted at earlier, is definitely down to the quality of the international fixtures this Autumn. The ANC has yet to have a truly strong, enjoyable contest. The closest we got was the Ireland/England game, but even then the match lost its fizz at half time, when England were happy to concede over 60% of the possession to defend and kick all game. The tactic works fruitfully, but it's an absolute dud to watch. This weekend will be the first time all tournament that I'll choose to watch the club matches over the international games; they are just far more energetic, creative and exciting as a watcher. If we want more heads to be turned by the excitement of our sport, it feels as if the club game has become a stagnant game of 'try not to lose' rather than two nations going to war.
I love international Rugby and I still do think that it's the pinnacle of sporting achievement within our beloved game. The best memories I have with the sport have been live, in stadiums full of cheering fans at international fixtures. As it stands though, I feel as if the international scene needs a complete re-jig and rejuvenation before it becomes like the Football; boring international breaks that no one watches...