Is it time to bring in Central Contracts?

Is it time to bring in Central Contracts?

Australia Series No 14. Is it time for England to bring in central contracts to protect players and strengthen the National Side?

England's outstanding James Haskell inspired win over Australia last weekend was only their fourth in 17 matches Down Under since the two countries first met in Sydney in 1963.

Along with the inevitable war of words which has followed, this result has set up a thrilling couple of weeks for England fans, who know a win either in Melbourne on Saturday or Sydney a week later will clinch a memorable series triumph.

England remain unbeaten under Jones after seven matches, while incredibly their talisman, Saracens lock Maro itoje, has not tasted defeat for club or country since the Premiership season began in October. Unlike most of his teammates, the 21-year-old was not part of the World Cup debacle in the autumn and has since been sustained by Six Nations, European Champions Cup and Premiership title wins.

England's new boss has made it abundantly clear that his team's intensity levels will not be permitted to drop and on the back of his superb unbeaten start the Jones way is the only way for England.

However, the majority of the former Japan and Australia coach's squad have now been on the go since they went into the pre-World Cup camp last June and as they embark upon their twelfth consecutive month of top level action, something surely has to give.

For Grand Slam winning players riding on the crest of a wave, this might seem fine now, but it pays scant regard to their longer-term wellbeing. Player burn-out and increased vulnerability to injury is the inevitable consequence of what Stephen Jones' excellent book once termed Endless Winter. This will mean playing careers of over ten years will become increasingly rare and the sport will lose its heroes with much greater frequency.

Looking at the situation through the eyes of Wasps players, it is clear where priorities lie. Matt Mullan and Elliot Daly are doubtless desperate to win more caps and presumably would play anytime, anywhere.

Meanwhile Joe Launchbury must seize every opportunity to put his marker ahead of Messrs Itoje and Kruis in the second row pecking order and despite his outstanding man-of-the-match performance, Haskell's grasp on the No.7 shirt is nowhere near secure enough to allow him to opt out of a tour.

In fact, only troubled Harlequin Joe Marler has chosen not to be considered for the current series and it is easy to understand that handing the England shirt they have worked so hard to win to a challenger is not something most players are willing to countenance, regardless of the wider implications for their physical well-being.

James Haskell was a key man for Eddie Jones' side in their Six Nations triumph and since the fans love nothing more than seeing their heroes in the white of England they will continue to turn up in their droves, and matches like Saturday's do nothing to dissuade the TV companies from parting with huge sums for coverage rights, so there is also no commercial stimulus for the sport's administrators to reduce the players.

But every 80 minutes of top-level rugby is now a colossal physical contest and the hard fact is that the current model is driving rugby union towards a situation where careers will end at 30 rather than 35. It can surely therefore only be a matter of time before the RFU steps in and takes control of its most prized assets. Wales have given Bradley Davies a dual contract. When English cricket reached a similar point in the late 1980's, it responded by centrally contracting the players and the ensuing 25 years have delivered more success than failure. Irish rugby operates in this way and Wales are gravitating to the same position through their dual-contract arrangements.

Although the RFU will be clearing debt related to the redevelopment of Twickenham for some years, it seems central contracts are an inevitable development in order to protect player welfare and strengthen the national side.

It may take us all a while to get used to Elliot Daly or Joe Launchbury being representatives of England and Wasps rather than the other way round, but if it meant we were able to enjoy their skills for a few extra seasons, this would surely be a small price to pay.

– Entry was posted on June 16th, 2016 by James Haskell

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