London (AFP) – Rugby Football Union chief executive Steve Brown has pledged to deal with the concerns of stars who have raised the possibility of a strike in response to the current gruelling fixture schedule.
England internationals Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs and Joe Marler have talked of going on strike because top players face an 11-month season as part of plans for the new global calendar from 2020.
Vunipola, who recently had a third major surgery in under a year, claims his body could not handle the physical toll and he would accept reduced income to play fewer games.
The RFU is at the centre of negotiations and Brown hopes an agreement will be reached by the end of the season to improve player welfare — the issue he views as the biggest challenge of his Twickenham reign.
“We have no game if we have no players. Players have always been central to the RFU, but we need to bring it to the fore much more now,” Brown said on Tuesday.
“The players have a voice and we need to listen to them. They are saying what they think and what they feel about the current environment they’re playing in. We need to take heed of that.
“Listening to the players, I can see two things emerging. It’s not just the physical concerns, but also the mental demands and psychological pressures they are under.
“If it (strike action threat) is genuine, then it’s a concern. We shouldn’t be in that situation in this country so we have to find a solution for it. It’s a concern and we can’t ignore it.
“We need to listen to what they’re saying, but what is agreed has ramifications for the whole structure of the game as well.”
The players’ biggest concern is over the prospect of a Premiership campaign that will run from September to June, with summer tours being held in August, thereby creating the unpalatable 11-month season for internationals.
“It doesn’t hang together very well at the moment. What we haven’t done yet and what I haven’t seen yet is an analysis of the real facts,” Brown said.
“Let’s understand what’s happening with the players and the loading of players. Let’s understand what the rest periods are and when they can occur.”