Comment – Dave Craven: How is player welfare helped by August being their only break?

Gloucester's Danny Cipriani (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
Gloucester's Danny Cipriani (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
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IT readS like a classic oxymoron. One of the principal reasons for extending the English domestic Premiership season to 10 months from 2019-2020 was, it is claimed, to improve player welfare.

How on earth can player welfare benefit from a longer season?

Building on a global framework that, admittedly, was agreed in San Francisco last year, international rugby goes a step further and will run over 11 months.

This announcement – agreed by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and, most absurdly, the Rugby Players’ Association – comes just a few weeks after, at the age of only 28, England and British Lions prop Joe Marler retired from international rugby due to its relentless demands.

He cited wanting to spend more time with his family. Do not be surprised if more Test stars start doing likewise as this farcical situation unfolds over its initial four-year plan.

The Premiership will run from September to late June next term while England’s summer tours will take place in July rather than June leaving August as the only rugby-free month of the year.

Make the most of that chaps. Especially as two of the four years will see British and Irish Lions tours played in August.

Of course, it has all been dressed up in a positive fashion: England players will play a maximum of 30 full games per season, reduced by two matches from the current total, and there will be a mandatory five-week post-season rest for all.

But do not be kidded: 30 games is already deemed too many for players who, with the increasing physicality of the sport, are getting battered more heavily and are more regularly exhausted.

As for the five-week rest period, only two weeks is “absolute rest” with the other three classed as “active rest” .

Active rest. There is another oxymoron for you.

On the subject of blatant contradictions, this development seems at complete odds to the administrators’ current stance on dealing with high tackles.

In this matter they have arguably gone too far the other way in looking after players’ welfare.

Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani, below, for example, is serving a three-week ban following his red card against Munster when his shoulder made contact with Rory Scannell’s head.

This is perhaps the best way to describe the offence. Cipriani’s shoulder did, indeed, make contact with Scannell’s head.

This in itself, though, should not always constitute foul play.

There was very little the out-of-favour England fly-half, who was moving backwards and bracing himself for a collision, could do as the Munster centre essentially ran at his shoulder leading with his head.

In previous years it would have merely been deemed an unfortunate contact, maybe not even a foul.

However, the sport is clamping down rigidly on high tackles in an attempt to reduce head injuries and the worrying increase in concussions.

This, of course, is an important issue and some of the statistics being raised in the subject of concussions are alarming; everything that can be done to minimise the risk should be done.

But this is the point; the risk can only be minimised, it can never be eradicated.

With the best will in the world there will be times in games every weekend (and almost every weekend of the year now) where players will, in some way, receive contact to the head.

But in many occasions, at the speed the game is played and given the agility of its players, some of those collisions will simply be unavoidable.

Yet, perversely, Cipriani can be deemed lucky; World Rugby sanctions carry a minimum six-week ban for the offence he was found guilty of. Yes, six weeks. Essentially a seven-game ban having already been sent-off after just 29 minutes of a Champions Cup game his side then lost.

It was only reduced to three weeks because of Cipriani’s “clear disciplinary record” and his “timely expression of remorse”.

You would guess that the threat of such a long-time out of the sport will act as a deterrent and the player would think twice about committing the same foul again.

Yet, as earlier mentioned, therein lies the problem; did Cipriani really have time to think and readjust? I think not. Plenty more players will be caught out and punished in a similar manner if some common sense is not brought into the disciplinary process.

Or maybe that is all part of the player welfare master plan; ban players for weeks at a time for rudimentary fouls and, that way, ensure they do get that required rest.

Not sure if it would be classed as “absolute” or “active”.

It will be intriguing to see what happens next week when – as part of a trial in the inaugural Championship Cup – the definition of a high tackle is changed to being above the line of the armpit.