Northampton Saints - Barwell pours scorn over summer switch

New Franklin's Garden expansion plans.
New Franklin's Garden expansion plans.

Saints chairman Leon Barwell has dismissed the idea of summer rugby as “pie in the sky”.

Multi-millionaire Bath owner Bruce Craig has called for the game to become a summer sport in an effort to bring in an international calendar as football has.

With rugby played all year round, Craig wants to avoid World Cups and Six Nations clashing with the domestic season.

Saints were one of the teams most affected by this season’s World Cup and will shortly be hit by losing a raft of players to the Six Nations.

Craig wants the domestic season moved to span April to November with Test matches taking centre stage between December and March.

Barwell agrees that something must be done to avoid internationals clashing with club fixtures but believes trying to persuade the International Rugby Board (IRB) to have a world calendar and move the World Cup is non-starter.

“It is hard enough trying to persuade the RFU (Rugby Football Union) to change let alone the IRB,” said Barwell. “I understand the reasoning behind it, but forcing the whole world to change their structure is pie in the sky.”

And Barwell feels rugby supporters in England would not want to see their game become a summer sport and miss out on the changing tactics needed for the different conditions that the winter months bring.

“I am a bit of a traditionalist,” said Barwell. “I don’t really want to see it become a summer sport. This pops up every now and again, the problem is we are not just talking about changing the structure of the sport in the UK but the world.

“You need the whole international calendar to change and I don’t really think that is achievable.

“It would be better if we came up with our own solutions. The World Cup only comes around every four years. We need the clubs to come up with better solutions.

“It is always played during the northern hemisphere domestic season and they should look at moving it so it has less of an impact on the northern hemisphere.”

Premiership attendances fell slightly during the World Cup and Barwell feels that playing six league games during the tournament in New Zealand has made this season slightly ridiculous.

“The World Cup has made a mockery of the league,” he said.

“It certainly affected our early-season form, though we are now climbing back up the table.

“Attendances were also affected by the World Cup. One thing we could do is play an expanded LV= Cup during the World Cup period and try to raise the profile of that competition.”

After recovering from losing eight players during the World Cup to climb back up to third, Saints are to be hit again by the Six Nations.

Though Barwell is confident that it won’t have such a damaging effect on Saints as it did last season when they lost four out of the five Premiership games played during it.

This time they will have four games, but only one of them is at home, to resurgent Sale while Saints have tough trips to Gloucester, London Irish and champions Saracens.

Barwell said: “We are going into the Six Nations with a stronger squad and in a better place than the one we had in the World Cup.

“This time we will just be losing our England players, so we will still have George Pisi, Vasily Artemyev and Soane Tonga’uiha to call upon.

“Plus those new players we brought in and the younger players will have gained more experience and will be stronger when they have to step into the team.

“I think we will be stronger during the Six Nations than we were during the World Cup.”

Saints are desperate to reach the Premiership semi-finals for the third season running and to do it in this campaign would be a major triumph given that their England players will have missed half the league programme.

“We knew this was going to happen so we can’t use it as an excuse,” said Barwell. “We know it is a challenge but we are prepared for it.”