England's top players may play fewer than 20 games a season as rugby chiefs look to halt injury riseEngland's top players may play fewer than 20 games a season as rugby chiefs look to halt injury rise
England’s leading players could play fewer than 20 matches each season for club and country in a bid to address mounting concerns about the rate of injuries.
Player welfare have been central to the ongoing discussions between the Premiership clubs and RFU in an attempt to find agreement over the number of domestic games that overlap with England’s Test matches.
RFU announced last month that is introducing a trial to lower the legal height of the tackle to the Championship Cup in the new season as part of a bid to address the injury rate.
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Steve Brown, the RFU chief executive, has revealed the governing body is also making the case of reducing the workload on England’s top players, insisting it could be done despite the financial pressures facing the clubs and the union.
The governing body’s latest injury audit in March revealed that injuries in English rugby were increasing, both in terms of their frequency and severity.
The data - provided by the Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project (PRISP) – revealed that concussion is the most common injury, with 47 per cent of match injuries are linked to tackling.
“One of the theories that we are building at the moment that actually less is more,” said Brown.
“If you just take the international game in isolation. Commercially playing that few times a year actually generates more value that playing lots of time a year because scarcity does drive value, and drives the premium prices we are able to charge. Even now, we are still able to do that.
“We have two-and-a-half million people trying to buy a ticket for the autumn internationals. You have got that demand there. If that was 30 times a year you would probably lose value if you overdid it.
“There is something in that model that says less is more. If you talk about a player welfare issue, our commercial and player welfare ambitions can be aligned.”
Brown said the RFU was the injury data currently being collected could lead to a re-evaluation of the maximum number of games that an international is allowed to play each year, which currently stands at 32.
“When we look at stats, we currently have 32-game equivalents maximum for an international standard player,” Brown added. “Our guys are averaging about 20 at the moment, but even that might be too many. (It is) Particularly challenging in a Lions year.
“There is situation where we need to look collectively at how much rugby is played. But I actually think it is probably a group of about 50 players that do the most playing and we can probably name them all now and I think that is where we could get much more sophisticated with all the data that we now have.
“So it is less games or less games for that core of players. I have seen some stats that players are underplaying as well so if they are underplaying they are exposed to injury too and there are quite a number of players in that cohort.”
Brown also defended the RFU cost-cutting process, insisting it was necessary given the tough economic climate caused by uncertainty over Brexit and a changing landscape in broadcasting deals.
Brown confirmed this week that the RFU would be making at least 62 people redundant this month as part of a cost-cutting measure to save up to £3million per year.
“You talk about redundancies in the RFU, you see that everywhere at the moment,” Brown added. “But what we worry about is individual partners that we deal with are experiencing that pressure, whether it is Brexit or other things that are out there at the moment.
“There is quite a big change going on in the broadcast world in terms of how that is going to look going forward so we are just taking a view that is a sensible one so that we stay strong and well-off and comfortable and able to invest in the game continuously.
“We are taking a wider view of the economy which is partly Brexit-impacted but lots of other things as well. We are just looking about how much cash availability have people got to spend which what could be discretionary. Sometimes that is promotional stuff they do as a sponsor or a partner but also the people who come here and buy a box or entertain people, on match day or non-match day.
“We are just taking a cautious view of what that looks like. That is effected in the numbers that we are predicting at the moment which is why we are cutting back."