Former British and Irish Lion Stephen Ferris says it would be in the best interests of player safety to scrap the rest of the season.
The season was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Players have resumed training with the Pro14 due to restart next month, followed by the Heineken Champions Cup.
“Much as it pains me to say it, I would prefer not to cram all those games in, and end the season as it is now,” said Ferris.
Ferris and former Ulster team-mate Tommy Bowe reflect on Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam success, their first in 61 years, in a Sport Re-Run programme currently available to view on the BBC iPlayer.
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‘I would prefer to start next season afresh’
The autumn and winter months could present players with a punishing schedule. Pro14 semi-finals and final are to be played, along with the concluding stages of the Heineken Champions Cup, before Test rugby potentially returns in October.
Six Nations games are still outstanding, with the autumn internationals due to be played in November.
“There is still so much uncertainty with the virus,” said Ferris. “We have a date for rugby’s return but if there is a second wave are we back to square one, or square minus one?
“Fans will suffer a lot and financially can clubs support themselves without ticket sales? I remain optimistic and hopefully from an Ulster point of view we can get back to those big nights at Kingspan Stadium.
“But I am slightly worried. You see the Premier League churning out matches and playing two games a week, but football is not a contact sport and they have huge squads.
“Rugby is a contact sport, it is very physically demanding with lots of collisions and your body cannot take that two or three times a week. I would prefer to start next season afresh.
“There are so many factors that for me I would suggest pulling the season in a little earlier than we all hoped to benefit the players in the long term.
“You can’t expect a squad of 35 players to churn out match after match without picking up injuries and head knocks, or maybe getting down in the dumps due to a loss of form and not getting selected, so there is the whole mental health side of things as well.”
‘Break could extend Sexton and Murray careers’
Tommy Bowe, who played for the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and 2013, believes older players like Ireland captain Johnny Sexton could benefit from the spring break.
“It is going to be a long, long season with the Lions at the end of it, but given they came off the back of a World Cup, a lot of players were battered and bruised.
“Talking to Johnny and Conor Murray, they feel this break could actually extend their careers,” said Bowe, who won 69 caps for Ireland.
“That is the one thing in Ireland, you do get managed well and hopefully we will get back to some quality rugby soon.”
Ferris thinks Sexton, who will be 35 in July, still ‘has a lot more rugby left in him’ while Bowe believes the chasing pack need to push him harder if they want to succeed him for the next Rugby World Cup in 2023.
“We have all seen the knocks Johnny has taken, the cheap shots other teams are going to give him and the older he gets the more that is going to happen,” said Bowe.
“There is no doubt about it, he still has the quality and is the best fly-half in Ireland still and is still a good margin better than the other 10s in the country.
“We need to push through Joey Carbery, Ross Byrne and Billy Burns because we need the younger guys to start challenging him and take that jersey off him.”
‘The biggest highlight of my career’
Bowe scored a memorable try in the Millennium Stadium against Wales in Ireland’s final Six Nations game in 2009 which helped clinch the country’s first Grand Slam title in 61 years.
“It was probably the biggest highlight of my career, I was playing in Wales with the Ospreys at the time and of all the stadia that you play the Millennium has the most incredible of atmospheres.
“The try was a planned move we had been practising all week. We knew Wales did that blitz defence and we wanted to chip it over the top and it bounced up nicely for me.
“Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal was the winning of it in the end but for it all to come down to that last kick which Stephen Jones missed was typical of the highs and lows of sport.
“All that was going through your mind was ‘the Grand Slam is gone, but at least we will win the Six Nations’.
“When I saw Paul O’Connell waving and screaming like a child, it is not often you see him that excited but he could see it was going to dip below the bar, and you knew that we had done it.”
Bowe quipped that he “wasn’t exactly chuffed” that Ireland managed to win the Grand Slam again in 2018.
“We had been knocking on the door for such a long time and for them to do in such quick succession… but credit to them, it was a remarkable occasion,” he added.
Ferris said bringing the silverware home to Ireland was “one of the standout moments of my career”.
“It was a memorable time for me and all the lads. I was sitting on the bench by the time Jones stepped up to strike the penalty having had to go off slightly earlier than I’d hoped, and it was horrendous watching it.
“We were a better team than Wales that year and should have won it easier, but it didn’t work out that way.
“Still, to come out on the right side of it after all those moments waiting, it wasn’t just about the players. For the whole island of Ireland it really meant something.”
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