Rugby in the summer just won”t work, warns Cotton
Fran Cotton, whose mud-caked face became one of the defining images of rugby as a winter pursuit, last night kicked plans to convert the game in England into a summer sport into touch.
Cotton, the former England, Coventry and Sale prop who is now a powerful voice within the game, insisted thatinstead of trying to rearrange the global calendar and play English domestic rugby primarily during the summer months, the Aviva Premiershipclubs should instead be focusing on trying to get their own house in order.
Winter sport: Fran Cotton believes he has a solution to keeping the Aviva Premiership on a more sound footing
Cotton”s intervention follows the revelation that Bath”s millionaire owner, Bruce Craig, has begun talks with fellow club owners in England and France in an attempt to introduce a more structured, global season and create a new world club championship.
“The issue of a global calendar has been going for as long as I”ve been involved in rugby,” said Cotton, until recently chairman of Club England and a significant member of the RFU”s Management Board.
“Facilities and conditions have improved beyond recognition since that famous photograph of me was taken when I was playing for the Lions in New Zealand on the 1977 tour. It is extremely rare to see rugby played in those conditions any more because the quality of venues is so much better.
“Besides, it would be impossible to rearrange a whole new global calendar with World Cups and Lions tours to accommodate as well, let alone introduce extra rugby into the schedule.
Clear as mud: Fran Cotton
“At a push, I”d have no problem with a one-off world club cup between the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Super 15, possibly at a venue like Hong Kong before the sevens, but to have a full-blown competition in an already over-packed calendar is madness.
“I”d also do away with the LV Cup completely on the basis that players today play too many games and nobody wants to play in the LV at all, or at least until it reaches the semi-final stages.”
Cotton”s argument is geared more towards a radical restructuring of domestic rugby in England, pushing for a franchise system, no relegation and a greater emphasis on play-offs.
“There”s no successful team sport in the world that doesn”t now have a franchise system, and that includes the majority of rugby,” said Cotton.
“Only England and France have a club system and the French can afford to do so. We cannot. What worries me is that there is a great danger, with Sale”s owner trying to sell the club but struggling to find a buyer, Newcastle suffering low gates and Leeds out of the Premiership, that there will not be a significant union force in the north.
“Wasps are in so much trouble that their owner, Steve Hayes, is trying to sell the club for 1 with all the liabilities taken on, and even the more successful clubs recently, such as Saracens, are entirely dependent on a rich benefactor who has lost millions.”
Cotton points to rugby league as a way forward in the business of English club rugby union, even if the game in the north turned to summer rugby.
“In the Super League they have blocked relegation and promotion and allowed the teams to build on their business. This is how it has to be in England.
“If you look at the Championship now, few clubs have the infrastructure to meet the demands of the Premiership in any case. A franchise system would create a new Cornish force, for example, which would placate Pirates fans who are dreaming of promotion to the top flight.
“The franchises would be given a three or five-year safety net without relegation to create a successful business model.
Model: Leicester Tigers are in solid financial shape, but they are one of the few
“Right now, save for possibly Leicester and Harlequins, the clubs do not have a business model, just a dependence on benefactors.”
A revamp of the play-offs, rugby league style, would maintain interest lost by the lack of relegation and promotion.
“More emphasis should be placed on the play-offs, which should go on for longer and involve more teams,” said Cotton.
“There should be a play-off in the bottom six, for example, with the prize a place in the play-offs for the Premiership title.
“The clubs have got to focus more on turning themselves into solvent businesses because come the day when the owners leave, they could, like Wasps, be facing extinction.”
Summer rugby may well happen in England, however, at least in the summer of 2015 before the World Cup gets under way.
Under IRB rules the host country cannot stage their main domestic leagues during the tournament, so talks are currently ongoing, with the favoured solution starting the Premiership in August and staging four or five games before the World Cup begins.