Shorten Six Nations to give Lions tour breathing space

England chief Nigel Melville has called on the Six Nations to be condensed by one week once every four years to safeguard the British and Irish Lions' future.

Nigel Melville, the interim CEO of England Rugby
Nigel Melville, the interim CEO of England Rugby

Rugby Football Union (RFU) interim chief executive Melville has proposed his preferred solution to the Lions’ preparation battles for the 2021 South Africa tour.

The Gallagher Premiership’s reshaped future seasons put the English club league’s 2021 play-off final on June 26, just a week before the Lions’ opening tour match in South Africa.

Pro14 bosses have already admitted they would reschedule their final once every four years, though Premiership chiefs have held onto their scheduled date – leaving stand-in RFU boss Melville putting forth another solution.

“Take timetables, my view is you can solve that problem,” said Melville. “They (the Lions) need an extra week. If every four years we move the Six Nations from seven to six weeks, you create that extra week.

“So every four years why don’t we do that?”

Lions bosses fought against the odds of a densely-packed schedule to pull off a drawn series with New Zealand in 2017.

But that left then-head coach Warren Gatland and tour manager John Spencer insisting only extra preparation time would keep the much-loved Lions alive.

The Lions’ 2021 tour has already been cut from six to five weeks and 10 to eight matches, as part of global calendar reshaping agreed in San Francisco in January 2017.

The 2021 Premiership final has raised fears England players involved could simply be overlooked for Lions selection, given their lack of preparation time.

Melville has also refused to rule out an attempt to bring former chief Stuart Lancaster back into their coaching set-up.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will next month launch the search for a coach to join England’s backroom staff after the 2019 World Cup.England chiefs want head coach Eddie Jones to mentor his eventual successor, with that candidate yet to be finalised. The RFU will convene a panel in the New Year to intensify that search, and Melville has refused to dismiss the merits of re-employing former Leeds Tykes director of rugby Lancaster, who lost his head-coaching role after the 2015 World Cup.

When asked if current Leinster coach Lancaster would be a candidate for the future England backroom vacancy, former Otley and Wakefield scrum-half Melville replied: “I’m not sure, I haven’t spoken to Stuart so I’m not sure if it’s the path that he sees for himself.”