With the Rugby World Cup less than a month away World Rugby claims that player welfare is at the top of their priorities list. However, the pattern has emerged of the same countries receiving fewer rest days than others.
Robert Rees takes a look at how much of an influence this could be on a side qualifying for the knockouts.
Rugby World Cup Rest Days aiding hosts
In the past five World Cups the hosts have been in the top four for most rest days in all of them, topping those charts on three occasions.
The third of those being Japan. With 24 rest days they have a clear advantage when it comes to resting players in what should be a group they can get out of.
The lowest amount of days for anyone to have qualified for the knockout stages is 18 days. Fiji (2007), Australia (2015) and Scotland (2015).
Hosts have never received less than 23. England are the only hosts to fail to qualify for the knockout stages.
The eventual winners have also never had less than 20 rest days.
Out of the 100 entrants (Countries included for each qualification) only on 17 occasions has a tier two nation had 20 or more days rest in their pool stage games.
Are there enough rest days?
Compare the rest days in Japan of between three and 10 days and you’ll have a mixed bag.
Regular domestic fixtures lie at a minimum of five days (Sunday through Friday) and so any over is healthy.
Those who have to play just three or four days later will undoubtedly have to alter their teams but that then puts them at a disadvantage to those who have over a week to rest.
In terms of rest days tier one teams have had over 20 days rest in the pool stages 88% of the time.
Compare that to 34% for tier two nations. It doesn’t make good reading for World Rugby.
Squads are large for a reason but to ask any nation to field a side three days after their last game is insanity and detrimental to player welfare.
World Rugby should create smaller pools and space out games to ensure a steady flow of rugby is maintained but that players get a fair amount of rest.
Teams can pick larger squads but feel no benefit if they want to keep a strongest side possible playing.
Add this together with the distance traveled and countries like Tonga and Australia start to suffer, having to travel nearly 3000km each.
Not only do aching or injured bodies struggle to heal properly in short times, especially if not rested up (travelling) but teams then have less momentum as they shift around larger squads.
Same teams receiving more rest days
History shows us that since 2003 the majority of sides earning the most rest days are tier one nations.
There are also individual patterns that show us some countries receive a consistently low amount of days or consistently high.
Pattern of historic rest days
Looking back to 2003 there’s a consistent pattern that tier two nations are being treated differently in terms of rest days.
You can see how a country has a consistently high, or low pattern.
Players speak out
In 2015 Canada led Romania 15-0 but tired against their fresher opponents and lost. [DTH] Van der Merwe complained about the scheduling then and he’s complaining now as Canada prepare to face Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and Namibia in quick succession, a column in Rugby World reads;
“We’ve got four games in 17 days, the second-worst schedule in the whole World Cup. It’s unfair.
Tier Two nations should get a better schedule than Tier One. There’s a massive difference in player depth and I hope one day the World Cup takes that into account.”
“Main photo credit”