What The New Premiership Season Means For The British & Irish Lions

Biggest losers.

England Rugby yesterday revealed a complete revamp of their domestic season. Starting with 2019-20, the improved season structure will see a number of extra player welfare driven initiatives and a reduced number of international/club overlaps for the top-level professional game in England.

The changes include a commitment to a maximum number of match involvements, rest for the next England Rugby World Cup squad in July 2020, a year before the next British and Irish Lions’ tour, and alignment with the global season requirements, based on the San Francisco agreements.

The key announcements include:

  • Guaranteed in-season breaks for players in each of the three seasons.
  • Mandatory five-week post-season rest for all players which includes two weeks’ absolute rest and three weeks’ active rest
  • Minimum 10 weeks off/pre-season for England Senior Elite Player Squad (EPS) players (five weeks rest and five weeks preparation)
  • Minimum 12 weeks between Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final and Round 1 of the following Gallagher Premiership Rugby season
  • Maximum 35 match involvements (>20 minutes) in any one season for all players
  • Maximum 30 full game equivalents (reduced from 32) in any one season for all players
  • Premiership Rugby Cup structure to provide rest weeks for players with the most match time
  • England Senior EPS players to have a mandatory rest week if playing all international matches and more than 65% of total minutes (reduced from 80%) in the Quilter Internationals or Six Nations

In addition:

  • England Rugby World Cup squad rested for the summer Tests in July 2020 unless they have had 20 or fewer match involvements in the 2019-20 season
  • England players on the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to have a rest week during the 2021 Autumn internationals
  • English Lions’ players to have 10 weeks break
  • Tri-partite panel with an independent chairman to monitor and ensure compliance with the principles and to decide on any individual exceptions

But what does the new structure mean for the British and Irish Lions? Well firstly it was announced as a result that that the Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 will be reduced to eight matches over five weeks.

There will also be no extra training week between the Premiership final and the squad’s departure. This means should the PRO14 be more accommodating (and they likely will) then we may see less English players selected for the famous touring side going forward. If you were part of a Lions selector panel and you had a 50/50 decision to make would you select and English player knowing they would not be able to full participate in preparations?

So all in all – the biggest losers from the new structure are the British and Irish Lions. They have essentially been given a smaller role in the new calendar, and will have less preparation time going forward, despite calls from former coaches, players and officials for a longer tour.