Tuesday 11 June 2019 10:35 am

Rugby set to enter a new era with games played over 11 months of the year

When Saracens fought back to beat Exeter Chiefs to the Premiership crown 10 days ago it marked not only the end of a hugely successful season for Mark McCall’s side but also the end of an era for rugby.

From next season, the game’s new calendar will see players in action for a total of 11 months a year over the next four seasons, with the Premiership final, which was already considered late in the year when running into June, being pushed back until the penultimate or final weekend of that month.

It comes under plans outlined by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), which will see the Premiership season start on 20 October this year, to minimise overlap with the Rugby World Cup. For the following three years it will begin a week later in September than currently.

Read more: Danny Cipriani sweeps up Premiership’s individual awards but will he get a World Cup call-up?

With the final in Japan not until 2 November, players involved are still set to miss the opening rounds of the season, while next year’s Premiership final will take place on 20 June.

This means that next season’s showpiece event at Twickenham will coincide with Euro 2020 football, Royal Ascot and the build-up to Wimbledon as it ventures further into summer.

The RFU has also committed England to two-Test tours in years after the World Cup, starting with a trip to Japan next summer.

Games will be played throughout July, although there is a commitment to not selecting those who featured heavily at the World Cup.

England have agreed two-Test tours in the years after the World Cup
England have agreed two-Test tours in the years after the World Cup, including a return to Japan in 2020

In 2021, the British and Irish Lions will play their first of eight matches just a week after the Premiership final on 26 June, despite calls from Warren Gatland – expected to be confirmed this week as head coach again – for the team to have longer together in the wake of 2017’s New Zealand tour.

It means the players will have just three weeks together before the three-Test series against the Springboks at the end of July, and will hand the advantage to Irish, Scottish and Welsh players from the Pro14, which has committed to bring forward its final in Lions years.

With 2022 summer internationals scheduled for July and World Cup warm-up matches planned for August 2023, it means just four months over the next four years will not feature any domestic or international rugby: August 2020, 2021 and 2022, and July 2023.

In a bid to temper concerns over player welfare, new laws will also be introduced to limit playing time, as well as allocating guaranteed in-season rest periods.

Read more: Exeter’s Tony Rowe has overseen the club’s rise to the top of English rugby

Players will be limited to 30 80-minute appearances each season, down from 32, while there will also be a limit of 35 match involvements, classed as any appearance lasting more than 20 minutes.

Those who are a part of the England set-up will get a mandatory week off during the season if they have played more than 65 per cent of the autumn internationals or Six Nations games, down from 80 per cent.

There will also be a minimum of 10 weeks off, five of which must involve resting away from the club, but overall, little let-up.