Workload passports for rugby players could be a key tool in tackling the growing problem of burnout for top stars, says international players' chief Omar Hassanein.
The 41-year-old Australian said the main problem was not so much the number of matches as the amount of training between games, which can lead to physical and mental exhaustion.
England's poor performances in the Six Nations may have been down to weary bodies after a punishing schedule that included last year's British and Irish Lions tour, according to their 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward. But none of the teams is immune.
Champions Ireland entered the tournament missing several key players -- among them No. 8 Jamie Heaslip and flanker Sean O'Brien -- and lost others on the way to sealing the Grand Slam for only the third time in their history.
Hassanein said that while clubs have the right to devise their own training regimes as they pay the players, the International Rugby Players' Association, the world representative body for professionals, can also have a say.
"We can set the right parameters and guidelines," the IRPA chief executive told AFP. "We are working with World Rugby on player load and a working group arose out of the athletes commission as the players asked for it, so it is player-driven.
"Within that we are looking at options such as player-load passports so we can track number of minutes and intensity between club and national duty and then when they go back to their clubs after Tests or when a player moves from club to club."
Hassanein, who played for Randwick and Super Rugby franchise Waratahs in Australia and in France during his career on the pitch, said clubs' demands on players could rebound on them.
"The clubs that are enforcing more and more of a load are actually doing a disservice to themselves because injury rates are going up," he said.
"They are doing this in the interests of getting greater broadcast time and therefore more money but that is a short-sighted view ultimately as it will have an effect on performance as well."
- 'Financial agenda' -
Hassanein, who said the burnout problem hit him most as a player in France, said the Irish model could be the way forward if the club versus country conundrum is to be resolved.
"I would compliment Ireland, not just because I live here, as the central contracts model allows them to manage players' body and mind better," said Hassanein, who was the head of Rugby Players Ireland from 2011 to 2017.
"So the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) would liaise with the likes of Leinster and Munster to ensure players are ready for the Six Nations even if it meant the players dropping a few club games.
"The problem in England and France is they have competing forces all driving a financial agenda which has the player wedged in the middle so that model in a lot of ways drives the attitude which eventually leads to where things get to."
Ireland are ranked second in the world following their Six Nations success while France, with a much higher population, are languishing in eight spot.
Hassanein said the problem needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand.
"I think at the moment we only have five to 10 percent of players playing over 30 matches a year but the training load is the problem," he said.
"If that keeps going up and up and people are not conscious of it or referring to science and research the whole time then we are going to have a big problem."