O'Shea urges rugby chiefs to seize 'moment' for change


London (AFP)

The Rugby Football Union's (RFU) performance director Conor O'Shea on Thursday urged the sport's bosses to use the enforced coronavirus break to sort out the global calendar "once and for all".

Rugby has faced a number of thorny issues since it turned professional 25 years ago, including how best to balance the competing demands of northern and southern hemisphere countries and clubs.

But the COVID-19 outbreak has allowed time for leading representatives of Europe's Six Nations and the southern hemisphere's SANZAAR to hold talks on the future of the game.

For O'Shea, Italy's coach at last year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, where Eddie Jones' England lost in the final to South Africa, it has been an extraordinary time.

"It's been bizarre. The last game I had was Italy v New Zealand and that was cancelled by a typhoon and then you come back -- within a couple of months we're in a pandemic and lockdown again," O'Shea told a conference call.

"But one of the things I've seen since I've come back and especially over the last number of months, is the collaboration... it's forcing everyone to really come together and actually start looking how to best solve things.

"I really hope and believe this is a moment in time."

- 'Fault lines' -

The former Ireland full-back said the "fault lines" in the sport had been obvious since 1995.

"Things will never be perfect but we've got an unbelievable opportunity," he said. "All I'm seeing now, from conversations I'm having every day virtually on the phone, is a real will to try to get this right once and for all."

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said the Six Nations could be played as a home-and-away tournament next season if the illness prevented the November internationals going ahead as planned.

Sweeney is optimistic England could still play their scheduled Twickenham matches against New Zealand, Tonga, Australia and Argentina.

But he said both the northern and southern hemispheres were making contingency plans.

"One of them is if you'd play a Six Nations tournament in that autumn that would combine with fixtures next year and for the first time ever you'd have home and away. It's possible."

Officials are still looking at how to complete the 2020 tournament, which has been suspended because of the virus.

Sweeney was speaking as the RFU announced a "roadmap" for the return of the community game, although officials stressed it was too soon to say when matches could restart.

He said the RFU would come out of the crisis strongly, even though he acknowledged the consequences of the virus would linger.

"We were investing in and will continue to invest in our high-performance pathways," he said.

"We've got an outstanding crop of players and a World Cup coming up in 2023 (in France). We've got a great head coach and we want to make sure we don't go backwards in any way."