Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has expressed his concerns after plans were announced for a new World 12s competition.
World Rugby and the Premiership have issued tepid responses to a tournament that is being positioned as rugby’s equivalent to cricket’s Indian Premier League and The Hundred.
It has been reported that organisers are keen for 192 men’s players from tier-one and tier-two nations to be selected via auction to play for eight franchises consisting of squads of 24 who will be overseen by established coaches.
The format will consist of round-robin games before a knockout phase determines the winners.
August start to proposed tournament
The inaugural men’s tournament will be staged in England next August and September, with a women’s event launching a year later.
But the biggest problem it faces is player release. Clubs and provinces in European leagues are unlikely to allow their stars to take part during a time of year when they are either on holiday or in pre-season.
And the chances of New Zealand, Australia or South Africa international players being involved are minimal because of the Rugby Championship being held at the same time.
“I had a bit of a wry smile to myself, shook my head and went ‘here we go again’ kind of thing,” Baxter said.
“The biggest thing that bothers me when these proposals are thrown around, and I don’t mind saying it, is player discontent.
“Straight away, from a managerial point of view, if this goes ahead what’s the outcome going to be?
“It’s basically going to be players put in the middle – they are going to be the jam in the sandwich again between clubs and unions.
“These people (tournament organisers) are going to offer, I am assuming, quite a lot of money to try and attract them to play, and the player is going to turn around and he is going to have to ask to be released from contractual obligations. That was the first thing I thought.
“How does it fit into any player’s contract, because most of them will be under contract for 12 months of the year, and it doesn’t fit into that without player release.
“I think there are going to be a lot of confrontational meetings and problems before I can see it even getting off the ground.”
Organisers say equal prize money will be offered for both competitions, and the expectation is that the World 12s will be staged in different global destinations. It is hoped that £250million will be generated over the next five years.
Each team will consist of six backs and six forwards, with matches lasting 30 minutes, and the competition will take part over three successive weekends.
World Rugby, though, has questioned how it will fit within the new global calendar which is currently being drawn up, and Premiership Rugby said it “can only be considered in the broader context of player welfare and the already congested global calendar”.
Baxter added: “Rugby is a different game to other sports. I can see how it works at certain times with cricket and I can understand the attraction.
“What people need to understand is what are you creating?
“You can come to a game of rugby and spend two or three hours at a game and have a thoroughly good time and be thoroughly entertained by it, whereas in cricket to partake in a game previously you had to be there for a day.
“I see why short-form works in cricket because you change the whole watching environment – you go for an evening out – but that doesn’t need to change in rugby, so I don’t know what the change in audience is going to be.
“Personally, I don’t think it is going to be quite as attractive as people think it is going to be.”
Meanwhile, veteran scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth has been promoted to Leicester Tigers’ coaching team to help shape the attack but head coach Steve Borthwick insists he still remains a key player for the club.
Wigglesworth, who is 38, will join the Welford Road-based outfit’s backroom staff for the first time, although he has previously had coaching spells with Canada and Ealing.
The former England number nine, the first player in Premiership history to surpass 300 appearances, will lead Leicester’s attack alongside Matt Smith.