RFU anger over plan to extend next World Cup to seven weeks after officials rush through schedule change following plea from players’ unions around the world
- Player power has forced rugby authorities into a hasty World Cup overhaul
- Officials agreed to extend the 2023 tournament and increase squad sizes
- World Rugby’s executive committee are due to ratify the decision next week
Player power has forced rugby authorities into a hasty World Cup overhaul on welfare grounds — with the next tournament set to be extended by a week and squad sizes to increase.
The board of Rugby World Cup Ltd held a meeting last Friday when it was agreed that the 2023 event in France would conclude with a final on October 28, a week later than planned. This is to allow extra time for the pool stage, to ensure minimum five-day rest periods for all competing nations.
Sportsmail has learned that the schedule change was rushed through in response to pressure from players’ unions around the world.
Player power has forced rugby authorities into a hasty World Cup overhaul on welfare grounds
The clear message to governing bodies was that the participants would no longer accept tight turnarounds between round-robin fixtures, which have been a feature of past World Cups — especially for the weaker teams.
A letter sent to unions on Monday by Alan Gilpin, World Rugby’s interim chief executive, states: ‘Over the last few weeks, we received strong representations from International Rugby Players and its representatives on the RWCL Board that a minimum five-day rest period between all matches is a priority issue from a player welfare perspective, and that players will not tolerate the shorter rest periods for future tournaments. We have therefore had to address this for 2023.’
Tournament squads will be increased from 31 to 33 players as another measure designed to protect welfare, by allowing greater rotation, while fixtures will be arranged to minimise travel.
Rugby World Cup Ltd agreed to extend the 2023 tournament and increase squad sizes
However, it is the extra week which will provoke a polarised response. Unions were alerted to the change last Wednesday and asked for feedback, only for the RWCL board to make their decision two days later. In his letter, Gilpin noted: ‘We are conscious that the timeframe for this discussion has been limited and challenging.’
World Rugby’s executive committee are due to ratify the decision on Monday.
English officials have protested. A statement from the RFU read: ‘The RFU received late notification from World Rugby that there is a proposal to extend Rugby World Cup 2023 by seven days.
Player welfare is a hot topic and the intensity of modern rugby requires recovery time
The RFU is aligned with initiatives to improve player welfare. However, we believe more discussion is required to consider all options and the potential impact on clubs.
‘As no decision has yet been made, the RFU has asked World Rugby to allow more time for further consultation on this matter.’
Premiership Rugby have also objected, stating: ‘Premiership Rugby hasn’t been consulted over this proposal from World Rugby and we would expect time to consider it properly before any decision is made.’
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