One goal for one season

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The Independent Online
Christmas approaches, marking the halfway point of the season. It also marks the end of yet another nonsensical, and largely meaningless, period of nigh on six weeks we have to endure year in year out while we continue to persist with the Divisional Championship. England will have had two Test matches against South Africa and Western Samoa but, in between, the lull has been desperate.

The break will have done the head of Will Carling, the shoulder of Tim Rodber and the ankle of Mike Catt a world of good, but what of the rest of the squad and the rest of England's top players? There is a place for the Divisional Championship but when and for whom it is played has to be settled right now.

By allowing the championship to continue as it does, nothing can be done to cure the resulting melee in the New Year. With games in the Five Nations, league and cup to be played, the result is a mish-mash of a fixture list.

On the playing side, many of the elite players opt for a break and most that do play have their minds set on League success as opposed to Divisional.

I would suggest that the Divisional Championship be played alongside the Five Nations on the rest weekends, thus allowing non-Test players an opportunity for competitive rugby and with it exposure at a higher level. These are the players for whom the competition has a purpose and meaning, and by taking the championship away from November and December it frees up more weekends to ease congestion on the fixture list.

I believe the way forward for English rugby is through the clubs. A period of consolidation is upon us as they try to come to terms with professionalism. The harsh reality is that the clubs that are best equipped to do so will steal a march and become the standard bearers in the years to come.

The players will migrate to these top clubs and the focus will then be on the clubs to take us forward. England's top players will be playing against each other domestically and against their peers at a European and even world level. Much has already been done to instigate competitive rugby against Welsh and European sides. The stumbling blocks, though, are the resultant structure of our season and the issue of whether our players will be playing too much rugby.

Continuity in the season is paramount and so the RFU commission are right to suggest that in the run-up to November the Leagues should be played in the old format of playing each other just once, as opposed to home and away. Clubs will be playing for the right to compete in Europe (the top four), and Anglo-Welsh league (the rest of the First Division) and the Cameron-Hall Plate or such like for the residuals. Not that Sir John Hall backs residuals, of course.

A League of 12 clubs will mean that they can be decided by the end of November, with room for a Test match too. For the cream of the First Division, games will then be played in pools of four European teams throughout December with the latter stages in January. Other clubs will be involved in whichever competition they qualify for.

Clubs could then be involved in the latter stages of the Pilkington Cup through February before the Six Nations' Championship (including Italy) gets under way in March. This allows for the internationals to be played in the better climes of March and April, while also avoiding the encroachment of our game on to the busy summer sporting calendar. The running of the Divisional Championship and County Championship at this time will engage the rest of England's better players.

The players who will not be involved at this stage of the year will have started their season in August playing in the earlier rounds of the Pilkington Cup or friendlies in the case of an early knock-out.

The result is a season with some pattern and structure where your goal does not change by the week.

Possible season of an international at Leicester 96/97

7 September Saracens (League)

14 Sept Bristol (League)

21 Sept Wasps (League)

28 Sept Gloucester (League)

5 October Bath (League)

12 Oct Sale (League)

19 Oct Harlequins (League)

26 Oct Northampton (League)

2 November London Scottish (League)

9 Nov Orrell (League)

16 Nov Newcastle (League)

23 Nov Rest

30 Nov New Zealand

7 December Richmond (Cup)

14 Dec Leinster (European League)

21 Dec Toulouse (Euro League)

28 Dec Swansea (Euro League)

4 January Milan (Euro League, quarter-final)

11 Jan Cardiff (Euro League, semi-final)

18 Jan Rest

25 Jan Bath (Euro League, final)

1 February Moseley (Cup)

8 Feb Sale (Cup, quarter-final)

15 Feb Harlequins (Cup, semi-final)

22 Feb Newcastle (Cup, final)

1 March Rest

8 Mar England v Wales

15 Mar Rest

22 Mar England v Italy

29 Mar Rest

5 April England v Scotland

12 Apr Rest

19 Apr England v Ireland

26 Apr Rest

3 May England v France

10-31 May Two-Test tour of Australia.