Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped…
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Whether you agree or not with the RFU’s decision to cancel the remainder of the season for all clubs in England below the Premiership, at least they have reacted quickly and for that they deserve some credit at least.
Or maybe just quicker than was expected, given the RFU’s track record.
The danger was that the initial deadline of April 14th would be reached and then further extended, leaving clubs in limbo with no clear idea of how the rest of the season would unfold. At least they now have a definitive answer and can try and plan accordingly, tough as that will be.
When governing bodies across the country are being accused of indecision, rugby below the Premiership has been given a clear directive, even if some of the finer points have yet to be confirmed, including how the question of relegation and promotion between leagues will be resolved.
The following is mostly summary of what was said on this week’s CWR’s Rugby Show which focused for the most part on Coventry Rugby Club, with presenter Alec Blackman chatting to regulars John Butler and Richard Moon, as well as Coventry Chairman, Jon Sharp. And although the broadcast took place before the RFU’s announcement today, its content does help clarify some of the thinking behind its decision.
If you’ve not tuned in to AB’s weekly slot before, it’s always well worth a listen, although given this week’s edition is now the last of this current season, you’ll have something of a wait if you want to catch the next instalment. I’ve added a link to the programme (kindly forwarded by AB) towards the end of the post – the programme itself starts 2 hours in.
Listening to Coventry Rugby Chairman, Jon Sharp, speak on Wednesday, it was clear he felt the decision to curtail the current season was inevitable given the nationwide restrictions now in place as a result of the Coronavirus and its likely impact in the coming weeks and months.
The safety of all stakeholders was always going to come first.
Both John Butler and Richard Moon believed that given JS had his finger on the pulse of all things Championship related and if he thought that cancellation was inevitable, then that would indeed be the case.
And so it proved.
What JS had to say was particularly interesting and his comments on the potential difficulties involved in resuming the season post April 14th help put into some context the RFU’s announcement earlier today.
Paraphrasing somewhat, Jon Sharp accepted that there was still time to finish the season, but with squad training and all contact drills now banned, it was hard to see how teams could get straight back into action after several weeks of relative inactivity.
Richard Moon made the point that fitness regimes are the responsibility of the individual player so that in itself shouldn’t be an issue, its no different to an extended mid-season break, but government guidelines make squad training impossible and this is likely to be the case for a lot longer than the initial April 14th guideline, so when players do eventually return following the enforced absence, they won’t be anywhere near ready to play competitive rugby.
Coventry Rugby have given players a training regime to follow, but with gyms the length and breadth of the country now closed, it would be very difficult for players to gain full match fitness for a few weeks after April 14th, presuming that was the earliest possible date of resumption. To have asked players to resume competitive rugby at that time without some sort of ‘lead in’ would have been foolish in the extreme and I guess could have resulted in serious injury.
Alec Blackman also mentioned the concern over player contracts, a factor that probably was very much at the heart of the RFU’s decision not to protract the season beyond the end of April. Players whose contracts end this season will have no legal obligations to their clubs after the current scheduled date of the final Championship fixture, give or take a couple of weeks.
Any extension beyond this date would inevitably create its own issues in terms of the legality of some players’ commitments and although this wasn’t alluded to, I also imagine clubs who have newly signed on players for next season wouldn’t be overly happy about them remaining with their current clubs for an extra couple of months or so whilst this season is completed. I could see that causing all sorts of difficulties.
On a more positive note, as far as injuries are concerned, at least it allows those players currently unavailable to recuperate and return to full fitness before, hopefully, the pre-season 20/21 begins again in August.
That apart, as JS said, clubs (and the RFU) have been dealt an almost impossible situation.
Even on Wednesday, JS felt that the win at Doncaster would turn out to be the last game of the season. He did suggest that some Championship clubs felt that the season should be called to a halt prematurely, but by the sound of it not all, and that this raised serious questions in terms of final positions. Would, as was suggested in The Rugby Paper last weekend, a Pools-style panel convene to work out a final league table or would current positions apply?
JS felt that promotion to the Premiership (Falcons) and relegation to the Championship (Saracens) have in effect already been decided, as has relegation from the Championship to National One (Yorkshire Carnegie), but promotion into the Championship was far less clear with both Richmond and Rosslyn Park still very much in the running.
Richard Moon even suggested that some National One sides at the top and bottom end of the league might be tempted to enter into some form of litigation such is the importance, financially, of future outcomes to some clubs presently involved in promotion and relegation issues in leagues below the Championship.
In addition, the distribution of what the Cov Chairman termed ‘meritocracy payments’ had still to be decided, with payments being made to each Championship club dependent on its finishing position. I imagine that it won’t amount to a huge amount, but in the current financial climate it would be a Tesco bonus for Cov.
The point was also made that had this happened a couple of seasons ago, Cov Rugby would have been everyone’s favourites for promotion. But what if had Cov had had to finish the season off in a few weeks time only to find a loss of players and/or form meant they went into tailspin and ended up second? That would have been tough to say the least.
Whilst today’s decision leaves no room for doubt as far as the remaining fixtures are concerned, there’s still plenty of detail to be sorted and as always that’s very much where the devil lies.
Even though, for me, the cancellation of the remaining Championship fixtures is the correct decision purely on the grounds of health and safety, the financial implications for all clubs are considerable, so much so that that they must have made making the right decision a much tougher one for the RFU knowing the impact it could have on many clubs for whom any reduction in revenue streams could be potentially disastrous.
As for Cov, they had two potentially very lucrative games coming up in the next few weeks.
The fixture against Ampthill was an opportunity for a few bragging rights to be settled and was bound to be popular with Cov supporters for whom Ampthill has become the new Moseley, or so it seems.
And Saturday’s game against Newcastle Falcons was a potential cash bonanza for the club, not just because of the interest in watching the champions-elect but also because of the emotive nature of the fixture, stirring up as it does memories of 1996 and that game against a star-studded Newcastle side that still remains so vivid in the minds of Cov supporters lucky enough to have been at Coundon Road that day.
It would have been a license to print money.
A pre-match Gaelic football game to commemorate St Patrick’s day arranged before the main event would have added to the occasion and with bars opening early and finishing late, receipts would have been up there with the very best in recent years.
Jon Sharp admitted that the expected cancellation of the remainder of the season following the RFU cuts next season would be a real body blow. It wasn’t just the lack of match day income that would be the concern, it was also the cancellation of all midweek business functions/social activities.
However, that said, Jon Sharp stressed that the welfare of everybody concerned, including players, staff, supporters and members of the general pubic had to come first. Always. With that in mind, the club had already instituted a work from home policy wherever possible, whilst ensuring the stadium continues to be maintained and kept secure.
Alec Blackman asked the question of both John Butler and Richard Moon as to how the club could continue to meet its financial responsibilities over the ensuing weeks given the lack of monies coming into the club. There were no easy answers.
Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, Cov had committed itself to being a full-time professional club next season but given its huge loss of income over the next weeks and months, could that now be put into doubt?
Even with the support being offered to small and medium businesses by Rishi Sunak, can a fully professional Coventry Rugby survive in the current economic climate?
And even if Cov can, there are plenty of other clubs both in the Championship and below for whom such a loss of income will have even greater consequences, junior clubs especially who rely so much on their mini-rugby sections on a Sunday.
Richard Moon said that if he were John Sharp, he’d be on the phone straight away to Bill Sweeney, Chief Executive of the RFU, to ask him for a postponement in the RFU cuts to the Championship announced a few weeks ago. An employment lawyer by trade, he pointed out that a number of government measures which were due to go on the statute books have already been postponed or delayed, so why can’t the same apply to the RFU’s decision to reduce funding?
It makes complete sense of course, but sense isn’t something that is always associated with the RFU these days.
As RM said, leadership needs to come from the top – ‘it’s all about the governing body doing what is best for the sport’ – which it absolutely is.
Jon Sharp later said he felt that the RFU would be unlikely to provide any great assistance to clubs given their current total disregard for the Championship and as far as government assistance is concerned, well he isn’t entirely sure as to what form it will take as yet. There should also be ‘possibilities’ with Business Interruption Insurance which the club does have, although the insurance companies are currently appearing to dodge their obligations under these policies, something ‘which makes my blood boil a little’.
According to JS, the club is looking to see what it can do to batten down the hatches until a time when the present situation eases somewhat. Some clubs are shutting down, others putting things on hold, ‘but that costs money and is a difficult thing to do’.
JS suggested that in terms of recruitment, having already looked at it in light of the recent RFU cuts, the Club are now further reappraising their current plans, perhaps putting everything on hold for the time being – something that would apply to all clubs.
Richard Moon felt that there might be clubs already in consultation with players to try to look at ways of implementing cuts in pay in order for the them to survive (Coventry was not mentioned here) but for that to happen it would need to be a collective decision.
Outside of the players, there might also have to be reductions in staff where they are part-time or only used on match days. Some might have to be laid off, with or without pay, and some contractors no longer employed.
To listen to the full programme, please click on the link below and scroll forward two hours:
It’s a welcome insight into what is currently happening in and around Coventry Rugby and well worth an hour of any Cov supporter’s time. Remember to fast forward to the final hour of the programme.
It all feels a bit apocalyptic just now but this will pass eventually so long as we are socially responsible and do our bit to ensure we all keep safe.
However, the world as we know it now probably has changed…
…but even so I feel fine.
I hope you do, too.