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Jeff Probyn column: Spare a thought for those on the treadmill of normal life

Mike BrownAs the players finally get to take a break, no matter how short, given the clubs have already started pre-season training, I am torn between wonder and contempt.

Wonder because of the achievements of our national side following the desperate disappointment of the World Cup and the surprise that they were actually able to do it.

Despite Eddie Jones’ insistence that England were going to Australia with the goal of winning all three Tests, all of us commentators of the game, if we are honest, were hoping that England would at least return with one Test win. The Grand Slam was one thing but beating a Southern Hemisphere team in their own backyard was something that had never been achieved, leaving us with little faith but lots of hope.

Contempt because once again there is a call to reduce the workload on players who have, we are told, been playing for an entire year, starting in June 2015 and finishing last week.

First, it was only the World Cup squad that were called to training sessions, not games, last June, while the rest of the professional game didn’t start its season until mid-October some six weeks later than the usual early September start.

Second, of all the players, Mike Brown has played the most minutes of any player this season but even he did not pass the magic 2,560 minutes (32 full games) that would have seen him in breach of the RFU playing limit.

While I understand the fact that many players (especially internationals) feel they are on a never-ending treadmill from one season merging with the next, so do many people in less pleasurable work environments.

I suppose for me and the generations who played and still play amateur rugby, the game was, and is, our escape from the daily treadmill of work and that is why I find it hard to understand the continual moaning about the workload faced by modern professional players.

One thing I do know is even if they increased the break in the season to ten weeks, the players would still have to maintain some level of training to keep fitness close to the required levels.

Those of us from the amateur game remember how hard the first few weeks of pre-season training felt after the summer break and almost passing out in the first few scrums as pressure mounted.

For some players who have a preponderance to injury, it is important that they take time to make sure they recover fully from any injury before taking part in the game again, so the idea of taking a sabbatical will work for them but not everyone needs, or wants, one.

I was lucky enough to play my entire career without suffering any long-term injuries that stopped me playing for more than a couple of games (although concussion in ’89 did cost me a place on the Lions tour) and I have to say that

anytime when I was fit I looked forward to the next time I could play.

What puzzles me is why RPA chairman Damian Hopley keeps banging on about the international game and how the number should either be curtailed or restructured as part of a global season.

The international game finances the whole professional game with clubs heavily reliant on their respective unions (apart from France) for the funds to manage the game. Surely, it would make more sense to shorten the club season than reduce the number of international matches as they provide the money for the clubs to survive.

It is RPA’s primary job to ensure the welfare of all players and not just the high profile internationals who have better care than most anyway.

If, for instance, the Premiership clubs were to do away with the play-offs that would enable the season to be shortened and the vast majority of professional players (which should be RPA’s first concern) would be able to take a longer summer break.

Then we have Damian talking about players suffering Lions burnout next year, well I hate to say it but they don’t have to go do they? Just like the South Sea islanders who refuse the chance to represent their countries in RWC; nobody can force players to accept the offer of a Lions tour and play.

The players can chose to accept what will be a very lucrative short-term contract to travel and play for the Lions or say: “Thanks but, no, I need the summer off,” and stay at home.

The Lions are the No.1 brand in world rugby but they only survived professionalism because they are a cash cow almost on parallel with RWC for the countries that take part in the tour.

Next year New Zealand will make a fortune hosting the tour, the home unions will do the same for supplying the team, and that money will be used to fund the professional game in all those countries ensuring that clubs and provinces can pay the members of RPA, i.e. the players.

If our star international players all said No to the offer of a tour place next summer, the Lions would still tour with those players who accept, even if it is a weakened squad but that could sound the death knell for that great rugby institution.

Modern players are professionals and can choose whether or not they take part in the ‘extra’ international games or not. If they play, they are paid well so they should stop moaning and get on with it.

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