The Gallagher Premiership has been suspended for five weeks, next month’s Heineken European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup quarter-finals have been postponed and the Rugby Football Union has suspended all rugby activity in England until 14 April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Premiership Rugby issued a statement on Monday evening that the suspension had been made because the government said it would no longer support mass gatherings while European Professional Club Rugby, which held a board meeting by conference call in the afternoon, reached an inevitable conclusion with all the professional leagues at a standstill and Europe poised to close its borders to non-essential foreign travel for the next 30 days.
“The safety of our fans and staff is our first priority,” said Premiership Rugby in a statement which did not mention whether it expected to conclude the league season which has 11 weekends to run. “We’ll continue to work closely with Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England and follow the advice of medical experts.”
The RFU, which like its counterpart in Wales, has stopped training sessions as well as matches, said it was following government advice, adding: “Where possible, players at all levels are encouraged to maintain their own fitness levels and keep active during this time which following government advice about safe distance and safe exercise environments. We will provide detailed updates on the impact to the season in the coming weeks.”
EPCR hopes its tournaments will be completed this season, saying in a statement: “While respecting all further directives from governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution that will enable it to complete the tournaments at such a time that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sports governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.”
There are nine rounds of the Premiership to be completed ahead of the playing semi-finals and final. With three European weekends, there are 14 weekends left in the campaign for English clubs. If the Premiership resumes on the final weekend of April, it would be the end of July before its season played out.
In Wales, the professional game board is meeting this week to discuss the financial implications of the shutdown for the country’s four regions, who were all financially challenged anyway. The Welsh Rugby Union may have to dip into the £35m it received from CVC when the private equity company bought a 27% share of the league earlier this season, the bulk of which it kept back for emergencies.