Rugby League: Goodway's fixture gripe

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The Independent Online
THE MEN who will lead Great Britain into this autumn's Test series against New Zealand fear this could be the last time they have the luxury of a fit, fresh squad with which to face an international.

As the three-Test series against the Kiwis was launched in London yesterday, those whose job it is to produce a winning British side warned against the consequences of Super League's plans for 30 games next season.

"It's too many matches," the Rugby League's performance director, Joe Lydon, said. "I know people talk about an era when they played more, but it's a different game now. If players are to produce their best they need time to prepare, not to be playing games in midweek."

The Great Britain captain, Andy Farrell, also reacted with alarm to the prospect of playing six midweek Super League fixtures next year. "It's ridiculous," he said. "It's too much of a physical game and you will only force standards down if you try to make players play too many games."

The Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, was equally damning. "It's not conducive to good football," he said. "The concept of Super League was to reduce the number of games and increase the quality of the product."

Unless there is a sudden glut of injuries, Goodway will go into the series against a side which could by then be acknowledged as world champions with something close to a full-strength squad. His fear, and that of the team manager, Phil Lowe, is that next year's tour to Australia will mark a return to the bad old days of a patched-up squad vainly trying to uphold British prestige.

Those who can see that danger will try to persuade Super League clubs to reject the idea of more games. The good news for that campaign is those clubs cannot constitutionally make that change unilaterally.

The Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe, confirmed a decision would have to be made by the game as a whole. "The season is a jigsaw and all the pieces have to fit together, including the Challenge Cup and international football," he said. "We have to be very careful that the stated intention of Super League to provide fewer matches of a higher level is not lost. We understand the commercial imperative driving clubs, but we have to ensure that players can perform to their optimum level. Having players flogged to death is bound to have consequences for Andy Goodway, Phil Lowe and Joe Lydon who are trying to make the national team world champions."

The series starts on 31 October at Huddersfield, with the other Tests on the next two Saturdays, at Bolton and Watford.

Peter Deakin, the commercial director of Saracens, who play at Vicarage Road, said the success of the third Test could be the cue for a Super League application for a second southern-based side.

Incidentally, yesterday's venue, the Rugby Club of St James's, has now been established as a base for both codes.