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New season structures confirmed in English game

Guaranteed in-season breaks for players are to be introduced as part of the structure for the next three seasons announced today by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and Rugby Players' Association.

Starting in 2019/20, the season structures 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 England’s next Rugby World Cup squad in July 2020, a year before the next British & 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 players (five weeks rest and five weeks preparation)
  • Minimum 12 weeks between Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final and Round 1 of the following league season
  • Maximum 35 match involvements (more than 20 minutes) in any 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 per cent of total minutes (reduced from 80 per cent) 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 & 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.

Stephen Brown, chief executive of the RFU, said: "This is very much a partnership and this domestic season structure has been a collaboration between the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA, driven by the Professional Game Board and with the San Francisco 2017 agreement underpinning everything.

"We've taken into account the obligations under the PGA and developed the new domestic season structure, focusing on the requirements of player welfare and input from the PGB sports science advisory sub-committee, which we all feel is the right approach for professional rugby in England."

Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: "The professional game continues to develop quickly and we've worked extremely hard with the RPA and RFU over the last 18 months since San Francisco to achieve a number of progressive goals for the English structure over the next three seasons, building in new player management approaches, reducing overlaps and scheduling more of Gallagher Premiership Rugby for the better weather conditions of spring and early summer."

Damian Hopley, chief executive, Rugby Players' Association, said: "It is fundamental that players had their say in the shaping of this new season structure and I must commend the hard work and diligence of the RPA Players' Board throughout this lengthy process.

“This new agreement gives players guaranteed in-season breaks for the first time and reduces playing thresholds, while protecting the five-week post-season break that was already in place. The creation of the Professional Game Panel will also provide rigour and governance to ensure player welfare is protected as the absolute priority in English rugby."