European club season hangs by a thread after France cancels Top 14 season | Sport

Any chance of a neat and tidy end to this European club rugby season looks increasingly forlorn following the decision in France to cancel the Top 14 campaign and concentrate on launching a full 2020-21 season in September.

It makes it very difficult to see how the 2019-20 Champions Cup can now be satisfactorily completed, with the tournament still marooned at its last-eight stage. With French clubs filling three of its quarter-final berths, any faint chance of knockout European rugby occurring in France before September has been dashed.

European Professional Club Rugby, as revealed in the Guardian last week, is still hoping it will be possible to stage the held-over games in October in place of its scheduled opening two pool rounds. It is also understood it would be prepared to stage games behind closed doors and abandon the need for the semi-finals to take place at neutral venues to simplify the logistics.

Being forced to put on a showpiece European final behind closed doors, however, would be a depressing anticlimax for all involved while the latest news from France further intensifies the dilemma facing Premiership officials in England.

If the English sides cannot fulfil the remaining nine rounds of the 2019-20 season their television revenues from BT Sport will take a major hit, potentially threatening the viability of at least one club. The alternative – pressing on with playing the matches in empty stadiums while much of Europe shakes its head in collective
disapproval – is similarly grim and barely more appealing.

Much now rests on the official advice given by the UK government but, even if a swift resumption were to be possible, the players would need reassuring that their interests are being looked after. With a long, over-stuffed season already looming in 2020-21,
further wage cuts and redundancies are likely if this season’s competitions are voided.

As yet no decision has been made in France as to what will happen about promotion or relegation to and from the ProD2 but it is widely anticipated it will be scrapped. Doing so, however, would complicate the qualification equation for next season’s European competitions with Toulouse, among the stronger sides left in the Champions Cup, currently lying outside the automatic qualifying places.

New Zealand Rugby, meanwhile, says it anticipates a 70% decline in revenue in 2020 as a result of the global sporting shutdown. Its annual figures for the past financial year showed a loss of NZ$7.4m (£3.55m).

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