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Cockerill challenges leading players to drive change towards fewer fixtures

Richard Cockerill believes rugby's top stars could be best placed to end the battle of wills over a long-mooted global season.

The Leicester boss has challenged the world's leading players to drive a change towards fewer fixtures, by accepting incrementally lowered wages to safeguard the sport's long-term health.

The Test match fixture card remains blank post the 2019 World Cup, with New Zealand already making veiled threats to go it alone and arrange their own international schedule after the world contest in Japan.

Unions and governing bodies are already polarised in opinion on how to cram as many fixtures into 12 months as possible while also considering player welfare - but Cockerill feels a radical solution may be required.

"I hear about player welfare all the time but we seem to play more and more rugby, so at some point there's got to be a scope of how many games the guys play and the intensity of those," said Leicester rugby director Cockerill.

"But the reality is that players want to play rugby, clubs don't make money, owners don't make money.

"The people that actually make the most money out of the game are the players, they do get paid very well and rightly so for what they do.

"I have suggested we play 25 per cent less games and they get paid 25 per cent less but they're not so keen on that. And that's just the nature of it.

"Players want to play, they want to earn money and I don't blame them.

"But they have to understand that from a financial point of view they are the ones who do gain a lot from the game, don't they.

"It is what it is, until someone decides different. I don't know a solution around it.

"It's all about money isn't it?"

England's Test stars endured 13 months' unbroken preparation in the long build-up to World Cup 2015, and the home nations' top players are already gearing up for another marathon campaign.

Next summer's British and Irish Lions trip to New Zealand has already come under fire for the scheduling of 10 matches, with anyone selected also featuring in the Aviva Premiership final facing a delayed arrival for the tour.

Leicester coach Cockerill explained the full extent of summer tours means cramming the ideal scenario of an eight-week pre-season into just three weeks.

The Tigers had six players on Lions duty four years ago, and Cockerill believes any clubs similarly represented next summer will suffer a natural fallout for the following campaign.

"The Lions tour is going to finish on July 8, so if you give them five weeks off that means they'll come back to you in the middle of August - and the season starts three weeks later," said Cockerill.

"That probably means missing the start of the season doesn't it.

"We gave our international players six weeks' holiday, and they'll have been back four weeks by the time we start the Premiership season on Friday night.

"You'd probably want eight weeks for a pre-season really, in an ideal world.

"But some of that is not the pre-season but the downtime when the players get to rest and recuperate."


From Belfast Telegraph