Double World Cup-winning ex-All Black Conrad Smith is convinced entrenched views towards shifting the Six Nations are easing as a global season rolls into view.
In his role as a council member for the International Rugby Players’ association, Smith has been at the heart of talks over pushing back the Six Nations slot by a month and coinciding it with the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship to achieve alignment.
Powerful unions like Ireland are reluctant to accede, but players are demanding change and former centre Smith believes the wind is blowing in their favour.
Smith, now high-performance director of Top 14 side Pau, with a good handle on opinion around the world, told The Rugby Paper: “In terms of players, we’d love to see a global season. Getting a little deeper into the talks now, we realise how difficult it is to achieve but I’m getting more and more confident that there’s a way through all this.
“The player voice is pretty unanimous in terms of wanting to make it work, but also in making sure the solution is kind on players in terms of the workload.
“Hopefully, the global season will create a great product and not burn players out, so if we can achieve that and get some really good club and international windows working alongside each other for mutual benefit, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Smith believes plans to align the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, scrap summer tours and create a new October/ November Test window are on the money.
As for moving the Six Nations, he added: “Public opinion is certainly pushing towards that, and that can change even the most entrenched views. There’s got to be a little bit of give and take but let’s be clear, nobody wants to wreck the Six Nations.
“I’ve been in Europe for five years now and it’s a wonderful competition. There are some ideas around now that will preserve it and still enable alignment over the how the season is run globally – I think that would be a good result for everyone.
“It would require some compromise all round, not least of all in France. But we’ve talked to the Top 14 and if you devoted October and November to internationals as well, you could move the domestic seasons back into July or play a bit longer.
“It remains to be seen, but once you get everyone around a table, I’m sure there’d be a solution.”
Meanwhile, five years after helping New Zealand secure back-to-back World Cup wins, Smith believes recently appointed head coach Ian Foster and his new captain Sam Cane are the right men to help the All Blacks regain their crown in 2023.
He said: “It’s going to be a really exciting time for New Zealand. I know ‘Fozzie’ well and I think it’s important that they brought some new blood and ideas onto the coaching team, but I’m glad he was promoted because he has the right vision.
“I don’t think we were a long way off in Japan and there’s a fine line at the top level, so it was important not to throw everything out just because we got beaten by a very good English side on one given day.”
Of Cane’s appointment, continuing a strong tradition of back rowers captaining the Kiwis, Smith added: “It’s no surprise Sam was appointed because he’s a great bloke who I saw grow into the role of a leader, and that’s continued.
“As a mark of character, the way he came back from his broken neck says a lot. He had the challenge of playing behind Richie McCaw as well, but he really relished that and he’s a great player in his own right.
“Sam’s been in the environment for a long time, it’s obvious he’d be ready for the captain’s role at some stage and now he’s got his chance. It’ll be exciting times for him and the team and I look forward to seeing how those guys go now.”
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