Premiership clubs face losing England players for half of their league matches next season due to mandatory rest periods and clashes with international fixtures in a truncated campaign before the World Cup.
The 2022-23 season will begin on 9 September and is due to run for 38 weeks, two fewer than the current campaign, with the final taking place in late May to give England more preparation time next summer for the 2023 World Cup in France. That was part of the agreement that saw the Rugby Football Union approve a halt to relegation from the Premiership last year.
It is understood, however, that England players who tour Australia are contracted to 10 weeks off before returning for their clubs and are due to miss the first two rounds of next season. In addition, with Eddie Jones’s side playing four autumn matches this year and England entitled to convene their squads a week before Test campaigns begin, players could be absent from their clubs for 11 Premiership rounds from October onwards.
Bye weeks provide some mitigation but factor in how England internationals are also entitled to a week’s rest during the season provided they reach a certain threshold of game-time during the autumn fixtures and Six Nations and some players may miss at least half of their club’s league campaigns.
“Next season, in a very congested program, when you look at the extended November series with the extra week and the Six Nations and the shortened season, I think the international players are available [for] something like 50% of the games, ”the Northampton rugby director Chris Boyd said recently.
“From a pure player availability point of view, it’s tough. From a financial point of view for the club it’s tough because you’re paying those guys’ wages when they’re away. But part of the obligation of the Premiership clubs is to produce players for the international game and if we lose sight of that then we go into a situation where the club game becomes more important than the international game and we get a completely different feel to our game. ”
When addressing England’s latest disappointing Six Nations campaign in March, the RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney suggested that the entire domestic structure needed overhauling when he said: “Everyone is fed up with it. We need to fix it. ”
Change is likely in 2024 when the new professional Game Agreement is introduced and while Premiership fixtures clashing with international matches is an age-old problem, to illustrate the difficulties facing clubs next season, Ellis Genge has played in more than 60% of Leicester’s league fixtures to date despite his involvement in both of England’s campaigns.
While the opening two rounds of next season’s Premiership are likely to take place without England squad members in action, clubs can seek dispensation for players to return early, provided the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association all agree.
Following the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa last summer, the majority of England players involved were granted dispensation to return ahead of schedule though of the 10 who appeared in the Test series against the Springboks, only Maro Itoje has avoided a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury this season. Itoje, as it happens, was one of the few players to be given the full 10 weeks off.
It is also understood that while there were initially plans to shelve the Premiership Rugby Cup next season due to the shortening of the campaign, it will now go ahead with the majority of fixtures taking place in midweek.