The Bath Rugby Column: Should rugby union become a summer sport?
It's a frequent debate, tossed back and forth by rugby fans and sports pundits alike - should rugby union be played out in the summer? Total Sport's Stephen Tred offers his opinion on the matter.
For the final few years of my junior rugby career I wore a pair of blue and white boots...predominantly white. I was a small lad back in the day and so from the look of me you'd presume that I played in the backs, especially due to the colour of my chosen footwear. But you'd be mistaken. Throughout my time playing rugby I was a forward, predominantly playing at either flanker or hooker. This ultimately meant that the boots got an absolute pasting in every game I played in.
Mud absolutely obliterated the crisp white finish that had lured me into wanting them in the first place. Now I still loved my boots but looking back I can see why my dad wanted me to go for the far more practical and classic black pair. The majority of my junior rugby memories are mud filled, we used to train on cold Tuesday nights and then play on rain sodden Sundays. If you're wondering, I could just about do it on a cold Tuesday night in Dorset but I was usually wearing a few layers!
I grew up accepting that it was all part of rugby and as a kid, who doesn't love rolling around in the mud and getting as dirty as possible? Well apart from the parents. You don't notice it as much as a kid, especially if you're in the forwards, mainly due to the fact that you're playing in it and not having to stand on the sidelines. Now backs would generally moan about the conditions but as forwards we were brought up to revel in the mud, generally because we would have the majority of the ball.
As rugby union has progressed and TV audiences for the game have increased its generally been accepted that fast, free flowing, attacking rugby is the sort of box office stuff that crowds absolutely love. Last season Bath set the Aviva Premiership alight playing some delightful attacking rugby and in past seasons clubs like Harlequins and Wasps have done the same thing. This sort of style however is only achievable when the weather is warmer.
I played in some horrible conditions as a kid and so admittedly I did favour the games in the spring and summer. Not only were you still able to get stuck in up front but you could actually run with the ball in hand and score a few tries at the same time. I appreciated the merits of playing in a range of different conditions but could see at that age the only way to play expansive, attacking rugby was in the summer.
However I do appreciate both sides of the argument, I massively enjoy watching matches that are mud soaked and are a real wrestling match in the forwards. It's everything I love about rugby, there is a fantastic feeling attached to winning those sort of games. Many would argue that if we moved our season we would be losing something that is so quintessential to the game, especially in the northern hemisphere.
On Twitter BathBytes (@BathBytes) said: "Not keen! Nothing better than getting stuck in when it's a muddy day."
With the start of another Super Rugby season the question over whether the rugby world should have one universal season in the summer has arisen again. Southern Hemisphere sides play the majority of their rugby in the summer and so benefit through being able to consistently play a fast free flowing game without the conditions disrupting this. However in the Northern hemisphere the season goes through a plethora of conditions; wind, rain, sun and even occasionally snow.
Starting the season in September results in a range of weather conditions for Northern Hemisphere sides and so they must provide a squad that can deal with all of them, not just the summer. At a sun soaked Recreation Ground this weekend Bath took on London Irish, with both sides able to chuck the ball about Bath were able to finally unleash their star studded back line. The West Country club performed well, not only winning but scoring four tries in the process.
As a spectator I will admit that I long and look forward to those Aviva Premiership fixtures in April and May, when the suns shines and sides can play an attractive brand of rugby. Some of my most fondest memories as a fan are when the suns been shining. Not only is it nice for the spectators but the players can also run a lot more, due to the firm ground under foot.
Twitter user Stimpleton, (@Droneworks) who attended Bath vs London Irish on Saturday, said: "Watching in the sun is always nicer. Summer appeals. Despite the sun yesterday I was frozen at the end."
The squad is built for free flowing, attractive rugby and so because of this summer conditions favour them. When under Australian coach Steve Meehan, Bath usually came into their own in the second half of the season but struggled to slog it out in the winter months. A summer game would create more attractive rugby and teams such as Bath, Wasps and Harlequins would flourish. Many would argue that this in turn would boost TV audiences as fans are exposed to less attritional affairs.
In turn summer rugby could then develop and improve basic skills amongst players, as they would be encouraged to run and offload a lot more. Southern Hemisphere coaches have grown up with playing summer rugby and are hugely in favour of it, even when coaching in the northern hemisphere.
On Twitter, rugby fan Joe Wiltshire (@joewiltshire) said: "The standard of Northern hemisphere rugby would improve dramatically."
However for a club such as Bath there might be additional problems with having a season in he summer, especially in terms of the Recreation Ground itself. The Rec is used for cricket in the summers and the deal has always been to take down a few of its stands once another seasons finished. If rugby's season was to change would the charity commission be as flexible with altering their agreement?
Twitter user Tony Vowles said: "Would we be able to stay at the Rec? All summer long with a temporary stand!"
A change in the calendar could create a universal rugby season though, which would be incredibly interesting. There might be a greater potential for club matches between southern and northern hemisphere sides, the World Cup would cause less disruption to northern hemisphere's leagues and international rugby could still be played in the winter to keep fans content.
This years six nations has been incredibly attritional, with fans and pundits alike admitting that few games have been interesting for the neutrals amongst us. The northern hemisphere clearly needs to improve when it comes to the international stage and after no sides featured in a World Cup semi final this point was emphasised. Playing in the summer would encourage the fast free flowing game that all Southern Hemisphere sides execute so well and many believe that the north would then start to catch up.
The debate is a good one to have and the constant evolution of the game since professionalism is intriguing to watch. Whether a universal season is a good idea or not, it can only be a good thing that rugby is constantly assessing itself instead of staying put and stagnating. Although a faster brand of rugby could be developed many don't want to lose the mud and grunt of a winter season, something that's still a foundation of the northern hemisphere's game.
You can follow Stephen on Twitter here.