Premiership Rugby is considering midweek matches in order to finish the season as well as slashing the length of its summer break in a move that could seriously jeopardise player welfare.
PRL’s chief executive, Darren Childs, has claimed finishing the current season is “the number one priority” with Harlequins on Monday the latest club to ask players, coaches and staff to accept a 25% wage cut. Childs admitted that playing matches over the summer was inevitable and revealed staging multiple fixtures at the same venue – possibly behind closed doors – is also a possibility along with midweek games.
The Premiership is suspended until 24 April but resuming next month is highly unlikely with the UK in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This season is due to finish on 20 June but Childs conceded that to complete all matches the campaign would stretch well beyond then.
That remains the aim, in the face of the threat of financial ruin for some clubs if the season is scrapped, but Childs also insisted the start of the following campaign – 12 September – would not be delayed, raising the prospect of exhausted players going from one season to another with barely a few weeks’ rest.
As things stand, there is a guaranteed minimum break of 12 weeks between seasons. Playing into the summer could also mean no significant summer rest for England’s World Cup stars, who have been on the go since last June. England are due to tour Japan in early July but that two-Test series was cast into further doubt on Monday however, when Japan cancelled the rest of its Top League fixtures.
“Our number one priority is to find a way to play, and that is what we are all working on behind the scenes,” said Childs. “Our aim is really clear. We are all working to try and hopefully be the first sport back on television, whether that is in a closed stadium or an open stadium.
“The reason why the clubs have put the players on a three-week break is to have that option to potentially compress the end of this season and the beginning of next season. There is no plan at the current moment to delay the start of the 2020-21 season. These things might come close to each other this year, but I think it is a unique year and that maybe one of the scenarios we have to run.
“We want to get this season finished, and if that means playing over the summer, then we will do that, as long as it is safe to do so. We won’t take any risks about anyone’s health and welfare.”
Childs also suggested Newcastle will be promoted to next season’s Premiership despite the threat of legal action from their Championship rivals Ealing Trailfinders, insisting Saracens’ relegation was set in stone. There had been suggestions Saracens may get a reprieve if some clubs go bust. “There is no change,” added Childs. “That is done, closed and sealed. We know who is at the top of the Championship, and we are hoping that is a pretty straightforward decision. It is an RFU decision, and I think they are getting reasonably close to making that decision.”