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Ex-All Blacks captain Read supports calls for rugby reforms

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Retired All Blacks captain Kieran Read is backing calls for an integrated international rugby season but is concerned that money "coming out of the north” might frustrate attempts to create a global calendar.

In an interview with the Stuff news website on Tuesday, Read echoed the widespread view that international rugby needs to move away from the current schedule which frequently forces players from both hemispheres to play test matches out of season.

Read, who retired from test rugby after last year’s World Cup in Japan and after leading the All Blacks in 52 of his 127 tests, suggested the richer northern hemisphere may continue to influence how the global calendar is structured.

Currently, northern hemisphere teams play tests in the southern hemisphere in June or July — at the end of their season — and southern hemisphere nations tour the north in November and December. Those international windows, which fall either in the middle of the Super Rugby season or the European club seasons, substantially lengthen the season for top players.

Re-elected World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has pledged to work toward a more integrated calendar which provides room for the Six Nations and Rugby Championship test tournaments as well as northern and southern hemisphere professional competitions. Beaumont is a strong advocate of a world test championship, though his efforts to establish one last year were stalled by an impasse over promotion-relegation.

Southern hemisphere nations opposed Beaumont’s re-election, favoring the reform candidacy of Argentina’s Agustin Pichot. In part, Beaumont was seen as representing the status quo and being too protective of the Six Nations and British and French club tournaments. He has already made clear he will oppose any move to re-schedule the Six Nations, which features Ireland, France, Italy, Wales, Scotland and England..

Read hoped an agreement could be reached which would better integrate the global season and provide more interest to fans. “I’d like to see some kind of consistency around the season,” he told Stuff. “That would be better for everyone involved and especially for the players. So you’re not playing out of season, which shortens your off-season (and) which means you’re not going to be as well recovered and ready for the next year.”

Read also joined many fans in calling for more tours by test-playing nations, a move away from established competitions. “I think tours are important for the international game,” he said. “The way I see it and the way the game has gone the money is going to dictate and the money is probably coming out of the north.

“A tour for me was more around end-of-year tours which we got to experience a little bit. They’re the best times for a player and I think fans can probably sense that as well. When you get a competitive series it certainly makes for pretty good viewing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic might have brought Read’s rugby career to an early end. After retiring from test rugby he signed to play for Toyota Verblitz in the Japan Top league, but his debut season was cut short by the pandemic. He has one more year to run on his contract but is not sure when he might be able to return to Japan.

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