(Reuters) – England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) will introduce in-season breaks for players for the next three seasons along with other changes to improve their welfare.
Under the new rules unveiled by the governing body on Tuesday, players will be allowed a maximum of 30 full games per season, instead of the current 32, and a total of 35 including those where they are involved for 20 minutes or more.
The English Premiership final will move from early to late June to help accommodate the changes, while players will still have to take a mandatory five weeks of rest after each season.
RFU Chief Executive Stephen Brown described the new structure as the product of a collaboration between the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) aimed at “focusing on the requirements of player welfare”.
As part of the initiative, players in the England squad for next year’s World Cup in Japan will be rested for the July internationals the following year unless they have been involved in 20 or fewer matches during the previous season.
England players called up to the British & Irish Lions squad for 2021 will also be given a week’s rest during the November internationals that year.
“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,” RPA Chief Executive Damian Hopley said.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Ken Ferris)