Fresh doubt has been cast on whether Premiership clubs can keep players on the government’s furlough scheme when they return to training after HMRC moved to clarify its position.
It is understood that when players return to stage two of training, which permits contact, HMRC will consider them no longer eligible for the scheme, which would end up costing the clubs around £200,000. Players may not even be eligible during stage one depending on the level of “supervised training” undertaken.
Bath confirmed on Wednesday they plan to return to stage one on 15 June for “individual conditioning with strict social distancing measures”. If clubs undertake “fully organised, supervised training”, it is understood HMRC would take a view that the players cannot be on furlough.
No date has yet been set for moving to stage two but clubs are expected to stay at stage one for around two weeks. Given Bath will not begin training until 15 June and that players will require around six weeks before matches can restart, the Premiership is unlikely to begin again until August.
It had been hoped that clubs could keep players on furlough until the Premiership restarts but an HMRC spokesperson told the Guardian: “Sports professionals undertaking supervised training with their employer are unlikely to be eligible for the grants from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, because such training directly contributes to generating revenue for their employer.
“Where training is a key component of an employee’s role and directly contributes to generating revenue for the employer, for example, training undertaken by sports professionals, then such training will not be allowable within the furlough scheme.”
Meanwhile, Sam Burgess has finally lifted the lid on his tumultuous time in rugby union, labelling Mike Ford “a snake” who attempted to “sabotage” Stuart Lancaster during the 2015 World Cup. Ford was his Bath coach at the time and shortly after that World Cup Burgess made an abrupt return to rugby league.
Speaking to the House of Rugby podcast, Burgess pinpoints the pool-stage defeat by Wales – when Mike’s son George was dropped – as the crux of England’s problems. “George is on the bench against Wales, George is then upset with me during the week thinking I’d orchestrated it,” Burgess said. “How could I orchestrate that? And Mike is doing his thing in the press. It just got a bit murky.
“Mike Ford wanted the England coaching job so his job was to try and sabotage Lancaster. With George being his son, in camp, it infiltrated a little bit into the camp. I went back to Bath but I couldn’t sit in the same room as Mike, I had lost respect for him. When I left Bath I left quietly, then when I was in the air Mike had a couple of jabs in the press … I had to laugh because I’ll never forget Mike’s face when I said: ‘Mike I don’t respect you any more, I think you’re a bit of a snake.’”
Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union is seeking to extend its loan facility by 50% to £150m because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also understood the union has permanently suspended the building of 10 artificial pitches which was put on hold in 2018. The £50m artificial pitches project was supposed to be one of the RFU’s key legacies of the 2015 World Cup but has been on hold for two years and now been cancelled for good.