JIMMY Gopperth has called on rugby union to follow the lead of their league counterparts and shift to summer scheduling.
Newcastle Falcons’ two-time Golden Boot winner was speaking against a backdrop of consecutive postponements, the Championship leaders’ matches against Cross Keys and Cornish Pirates both frozen off within the past ten days.
Coming from a Kiwi perspective, where southern hemisphere summers see the Super 15 season kicking off in cricket-like conditions, sub-zero temperatures at Kingston Park have gain brought talk of a switch to the boil among those who lace up their boots and slide around in the snow.
“Rugby union should definitely be a summer sport over here,” said Gopperth, the prolific fly-half whose first months on Tyneside were spent shovelling snow following his arrival from New Zealand province North Harbour four years ago.
“It would change the face of the game, and the whole atmosphere which surrounds it.”
Elaborating in his vision, the former Blues and Hurricanes star said: “Coming to England from New Zealand where the Super 15 begins in their summer, it is just a totally different experience.
“The crowd turn up in their T-shirt and shorts – OK, it would probably still be jerseys over here – the ground is hard and the style of rugby is the same as we see in England at the start and end of the season.
“That big middle chunk of the English campaign the way it is now is the thing which would change most, and for the majority of the season we would have the kind of rugby we currently get at either end when the grounds firm up.”
One could not accuse the stand-off of feathering his own nest and pining for conditions which best suit himself, given the nerve-less goal-kicking which has made him such a precious commodity during the cold winter months. Rugby League, motivated principally by TV money at a time when the 13-man code was all but on its knees financially, made the switch more than a decade ago. Crowds and sponsorship surged, with Gopperth keen for union not to miss the boat.
He added: “Rugby league have shown how you can benefit when you make a bold change like that, and union should follow. From a purely selfish perspective it has the added bonus of the European off-season being in the Kiwi summer, so I can go summer-summer-summer and never see winter!” With his side facing a potential fixture back-log after double postponements in a season where they are still fighting on all fronts, Gopperth believes there is sufficient slack in the schedule for Newcastle to absorb their current cancellations.
He said: “I suppose it is a bit of a negative in terms of piling the fixtures up towards the end of the season.
“However, the way the calendar works in this league means we do have two spare weekends still to be filled up.” Should the cold snap stick around much longer then the prospect of midweek rugby rears its head on the back of a week which saw supporters, officials and even players shovelling snow from the Kingston Park playing surface.
Gopperth added: “For the guys who were fit and able to chip in it was a wonderful gesture, and we are grateful for the time and energy they put in.
“I think it sort of typifies the feelgood factor which is around the club at the moment.”