Coronavirus: RFU ends all rugby for 2019/20 season except Premiership

Jack de Menezes
The Independent

The Rugby Football Union has ended the 2019/20 season with immediate effect for all league, cup and county rugby except the Premiership, chief executive Bill Sweeney has announced following the coronavirus crisis.

The RFU initially postponed all rugby union this week until 14 April due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but has elected to take the radical decision to call time on the entire season across the country bar the top flight, which could yet follow suit as talks continue over how to finish the Premiership campaign.

The decision means that both the Greene King Championship and Tyrrells Premier 15s will be brought to an immediate halt, along with all other leagues across the country, and leaves clubs in limbo over promotion and relegation hopes given there has been no clarification on what will happen ahead of the 2020/21 season, should it go ahead as planned.

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In a surprising statement issued on Friday morning, Sweeney wrote an open letter to all clubs, players and fans to confirm that the RFU are abandoning all remaining fixtures this season.

The statement read: “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 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.”

The uncertain circumstances surrounding how league structures will play out will continue for the next month, with Sweeney confirming that the RFU do not plan on clarifying what will happen until mid-April, leaving huge uncertainty over the future of English rugby.

Following this season’s salary-cap scandal, Saracens are due to be relegated to the Championship, but although Newcastle Falcons lead the second tier by a comfortable 18 points, they have not mathematically secured top spot with second-place Ealing Trailfinders still having eight games to play with a potential 40 points up for grabs. In fact, all teams down to seventh-placed Jersey are still mathematically capable of winning the league.

“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,” added Sweeney. “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.”

The RFU was already anticipating to make a financial loss for the last year due to the Rugby World Cup costs and absence of autumn internationals, with only two home Six Nations games to count on plus two World Cup warm-ups last August. As a result, the governing body said it has taken “financial measures to safeguard the business”, but did not detail what they were.

Concern will come from the recent financial difficulties that the RFU experienced two years ago following the redevelopment on Twickenham’s East Stand going massively over-budget as well as the large overspend by Eddie Jones on World Cup preparations, which both resulted in a £30.9m loss and 54 staff members being made redundant.

“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,” said Sweeney. “We benefit from strong Twickenham Stadium revenues but we are also exposed if there is widespread cancellation of games and events.

Twickenham is expecting 'considerable' financial losses (Reuters)
Twickenham is expecting 'considerable' financial losses (Reuters)

“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 Rugby World Cup 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.”

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