Bill Beaumont © Gallo Images
World Rugby has unveiled a new global calendar for 2020 onwards which will include shifting the June test window back to July to allow the Super Rugby season to run uninterrupted.
Ever since rugby union became a fully professional sport shortly after the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, there has been talk of a 'global season' in a bid to get greater harmony between club and international fixtures.
But with the 15-a-side code traditionally a winter sport in both the northern and southern hemispheres, all attempts to streamline the match programme have so far foundered, despite often repeated concerns about player welfare and burn-out.
The shifting of the June window will "enhance preparation for July tests for all unions", World Rugby argued.
Touring in that month often saw top players in France miss out as they, with no central contracts, still had club obligations at home.
Apart from its change to the June window, World Rugby also moved the November window forward one week so it now takes in the first three weeks of the month and cemented the Rugby World Cup within the calendar, kicking off one week earlier in the second week of September.
The agreement on "long-term calendar harmony" also includes leading or 'tier one' nation tours to the second-level Pacific Islands, Japan, Canada, USA, Georgia and Romania, as well as a "rotation principle that includes emerging rugby powers (which) will deliver greater schedule equity, promoting more meaningful, compelling fixtures and supporting World Rugby's objective to increase the competitiveness of the global game".
CERTAINTY AND SUSTAINABILITY
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "Agreement on an optimised global calendar that provides certainty and sustainability over the decade beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 represents an historic milestone for the global game."
The former England captain, who has made reform of the world calendar a key objective of his time at the head of rugby union's global governing body, added: "But more than that, this agreement has player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans.
"This process has been complex and there was no silver bullet... I would like to thank my union, professional league and club colleagues for their full contribution and commitment to reaching an agreement that will ultimately benefit the whole game."
Rob Nicholl, the chief executive of the International Rugby Players' Association, backed the new set-up, which is due trun from 2020-2032 by saying: "We welcome the agreement of a calendar and appreciate the genuine consideration given to the player welfare needs of the world's top players throughout the process."
The world champion All Blacks were also happy with what New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said was an "excellent outcome".
Tew, echoing earlier comments from South African counterpart Jurie Roux, said: "This is an excellent outcome for New Zealand with Super Rugby able to run without the disruptive June break, and provides the optimum preparation for the July international window."
He added: “This has been an important piece of work which also takes into account the welfare of players, development and advancement opportunities for emerging nations, and an exciting programme of test rugby."