"We don’t rest players for big matches here in Ireland because we want to cheat. We rest them for big matches because the calendar gives us no choice if we want to have any hope of competing in the major competitions."
It was back in April 2014 when I posted an article titled "It's the calendar, stupid" on these pages. The Champions Cup had just been given a new coat of paint with format and branding all changed, mostly because the Premiership clubs had enough of Irish provinces doing so well.
My point was that I felt an opportunity was missed to fix my biggest bugbear about European rugby, namely its calendar, which I always felt was hastily built around an untouchable Six Nations and made no sense when it came to coaches keeping their squads together or casual fans holding their interest, two pretty critical categories when it comes to organizing professional sport I've always thought.
Now over eight years later, while there is real talk about a "global calendar", pretty much all the same problems still exist, while down south everything is still tailor made for success.
Sadly I've no Leinster writeup this week, so instead I put together the graphic you see above. It represents a calendar for all the major tournaments - the three European domestic ones, Super Rugby, and all the test windows, spanning from September 2021 all the way to the last weekend of October 2022, which is when the World Cup final will take place exactly one year later.
Just look at how things are arranged in the southern hemisphere. Super Rugby Pacific, which just had its final last Saturday, ran for 18 straight weeks with byes but still no interruptions for other competitions. Simply put, head coaches had their squads together for the duration, and now the test coaches can assemble their players first for the July fixtures, then on into The Rugby Championship before they head north for our Autumn series, again with continuity.
You won't need the graphic to know we don't do things quite so simply on this half of the planet. What annoys me most is that if you're coach of a team that has realistic designs on the Champions Cup, once you guide your squad through the pool stages you then have to watch the Six Nations from behind the sofa in the hope that your best players make it through so you can use them in the knockout stages (although this of course won't apply to the SA teams joining the competition).
But that's not the only silliness. Look how this season went after the Six Nations...2 rounds of domestic, 2 rounds of Europe, then repeat, before the European finals, which you'd think would be the pinnacle of an entire season, getting played with three or four weeks of URC/Prem/Top14 still to go.
And while I'm harping on calendars, I also see that Rounds 1 & 2 of next season's Heineken Champions Cup are set to clash with the quarterfinals and final respectively of the football World Cup.
Like I say, I know the powers that be are working on this at the moment but I just hope that when the announcement is made it is something that will address these long-standing concerns of mine so I can get on with complaining about something else for the next eight years!!! JLP
PS - We're still technically on a mini-break before the New Zealand tour, we'll be back with regular features like podcasts, previews and writeups by next week.