RFU says 2019-20 season will NOT be finished - except in the Premiership
Although ramifications of the dramatic move, made in light of the coronavirus pandemic, are yet to be detailed, the governing body has made the decision to halt competitions two months early to help bring “clarity” in these unprecedented circumstances.
Earlier this week, games had been postponed initially until April 14 but, given how things have escalated, the powerbrokers at Twickenham have opted to take matters further.
Clubs in the Broad Acres, especially Yorkshire Carnegie who sit marooned to the bottom of the Championship and destined for relegation, will be keen to find out further details.
In the second tier, teams had seven or eight league fixtures remaining with leaders Newcastle Falcons 18 points clear of second-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
But, clearly, there are promotion and relegation issues to decide up and down the land.
In a letter to all rugby clubs in the country, RFU chief executive officer Bill Sweeney wrote: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19 as well as recent flooding events, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community.
“In order to provide clarity and to assist with immediate and longer term planning, the Rugby Football Union is today announcing the end of the 2019/20 rugby season for all league, cup and county rugby in England.
“The only exception to this is the Gallagher Premiership, who we are in active discussions with to review possible best next steps.
“When current government advice on social distancing measures changes, we will naturally encourage rugby training and friendlies to recommence.
“I would like to personally thank everyone for their swift actions in suspending rugby activity, this is not an easy time and I know many of you will have concerns that go beyond the game.
“We are working through the implications of ending the season early and have instigated a thorough process to ensure fair and balanced outcomes for the game.
“We will communicate these outcomes by the middle of April. While we would like to provide all the answers now, we need some time to get it right for the best interests of the game.
“Rest assured we are working on this as a priority and we will continue to send weekly updates to clubs.”
Sweeney explained that three areas of focus for the RFU are Welfare, Implications and Reboot.
He said: “We are ensuring colleagues and communities are given support to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy using individual training programmes.
“The RFU is also talking to government about how we can deploy and mobilise our own resources across England to support the vulnerable.”
With regards implications, he continued: “Every union is different, with unique structures and challenges and the RFU needs to manage its own particular complexities.
“Our business model is similar to most rugby clubs - we earn revenue from events on and off the field and we invest that back into the game.
“We benefit from strong Twickenham Stadium revenues but we are also exposed if there is widespread cancellation of games and events.
“In this extraordinary situation we are working through a range of potential financial scenarios dependent mainly on the length of this crisis.
“This was already budgeted to be a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and only hosting two home Six Nations games.
“The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the entire country.
“There may well also be much longer term financial implications which we are assessing now.
“ It is therefore taking us some time to develop a considered position on how we can support clubs and the rugby community, which we will do.
“We have already undertaken financial measures to safeguard the business enabling us to review all options and programmes to provide support for clubs in these difficult times.
“We welcome the measures announced by Government which could provide crucial support to professional and community clubs and the RFU.
“We are in regular contact with Sport England and The Sport and Recreation Alliance to understand how business rate relief and hardship funds can be accessed by clubs and will be providing assistance to make sure every club who is eligible will be supported.
“The implications for all areas of rugby will be thoroughly worked through and solutions discussed and developed with the clubs.”
Lastly, Sweeney referenced ‘reboot’ and what will need to be done to get thousands of players back on the field.
“Our welfare advice before the start of next season will switch to offering guidance on how players at all levels can reboot and get match ready,” he said.
“The RFU will work closely with constituent bodies to support clubs, competition organisers and the wider rugby community in preparing to re-start rugby in what is likely to be a challenging environment.
“In recent days we have all been inspired by the many stories across the rugby family working together to support those who are the most vulnerable in their community – this encapsulates the unique spirit of rugby.
“I am confident that this spirit and resilience during these tough times will ensure we will come through this together and emerge stronger.”