As the All Blacks prepare to bring the curtain down on a
marathon season in which some individuals have played more than
30 games in 40 weeks, noises increase about the need for change
to the season structure.
The brave new format of 2012 that saw an extended Super Rugby
competition take a three-week break for the June test window
has not been endorsed by the senior All Blacks.
The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association is monitoring the
situation and working out strategies to push for either
structural change or mechanisms by which workloads can be
This season, particularly the last quarter of Super Rugby,
was excessively demanding of the players because it forced
them into an almost 10-week block of intense back-to-back
The overall workload during the season is not so much the
issue for the senior All Blacks - most say they can handle
being on duty in mid-February and signing off in late
November. The bigger problem is the volume of intense games
played in a condensed period.
That is when mental and physical fatigue become serious
"I think now, the Super Rugby calendar and All Black calendar
combined, I wouldn't want to be playing too many more games,"
Conrad Smith said. "I have played 26 games this year and I
think the right number would be a little less than that ...
Playing every game of Super Rugby didn't help. All players
struggle through the year - I don't think you see a player
that plays his best all the way through the 10 months that we
The impact of the long season was felt in Cardiff last week
when the All Blacks felt they ran out of gas in the final 10
Maybe that was not surprising, as several All Blacks were
playing their 28th or 29th game since late February. Players
such as Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Liam
Messam, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg have played almost every
week since the season began, getting time off only in bye
weeks and the one-week gaps between each of the four rounds
in the Rugby Championship.
Ideally, the senior players would like to finish Super Rugby
before embarking on All Black duty, much like they have done
in the past. The killer for them this year was having to play
three tests and then return immediately to the business end
of Super Rugby and then the playoffs.
The problem is Sanzar has locked into a five-year broadcast
deal under the current structure. It would require
considerable reorganisation and, potentially, cut Sanzar's
income if the current agreement were amended before the
broadcast deal expired.
But at the same time there are genuine concerns that without
a more forgiving season structure, there will be a bigger
price to pay in damaging players' welfare.
"I think player welfare is the biggest issue we have in the
game globally. It is a huge concern for the game," All Blacks
coach Steve Hansen said.
"Your top players are the guys who are getting thrashed, both
internationally and at club level.
"What we will probably see more of is those people taking
sabbaticals unless the IRB show some leadership in this area
and sort out a global season."
By Gregor Paul.