RUGBY LIFE (news and views) under the Rugby Lockdown

RUGBY LIFE (news and views) under the Rugby Lockdown
Wales , United Kingdom - 21 February 2020; Leinster players watch on from the substitutes bench during the final moments of the Guinness PRO14 Round 12 match between Ospreys and Leinster at The Gnoll in Neath, Wales. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

For the majority of fans, they sustain a rugby life balance. One where participating, following and enjoying watching the game is Nirvana. But now, under the rugby lockdown, there is less and less to enjoy.

So to fans who have very little to digest, we present RUGBY LIFE – news and views across the Rugby Globe.

A simple look back at many of the news stories that have emerged, including views on some topics and crucially…..an update on the Belarus league competition [still the only official rugby competition running anywhere]. Flying in the face of a World Rugby postponement of all genuine organized competition. Sorry Bela-Russians, it’s just odd. 

That is not to say life cannot go on without rugby. Of course, family and current Easter celebrations continue. Yet as religions around the world are finding it difficult to celebrate with restrictions on congregations, rugby too is suffering. Although, this is not a ‘sad story’. No, it is designed to update readers on the latest happenings and occurring in these strange days.

Days without rugby yes. Weeks, and maybe months of an interrupted Rugby Life, true. But there are still conversations to be had.

RUGBY LIFE under the Rugby Lockdown; news and views

Even while Football is still played in Belarus, the rest of the world is on hold. Sport has had to join the call for a ‘rugby lockdown’. One-by-one, regions and organizations pulled the brake on the sport.

World Rugby shuts down for the ‘foreseeable future’

One aspect that emerged was how community rugby might survive. Not only financially but as much as to how leagues and competitions would be judged – as they might not resume; if/when the community is permitted to return to the field. The RFU in England awarded many community championships to the leading teams however, relegation/promotion would be a more difficult discussion.

Some suggested alternative methods to decipher the outcome. Robert Rees suggested rugby take from Cricket, the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern process. Interesting. Others thought that leagues wholly abandoned is seen as a fair way to decide. In a way, nobody would want arbitrarily chosen methods to come into play yet, nobody knows the extent and length of time the sport will be halted. Possibly, a void calendar is the one final choice that would, unfortunately, leave a ‘sour taste’ in the mouths of all stakeholders. Fair or not.

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Calls for a start to professional rugby competitions have been chirped out by all and sundry. Informed or disputed. Some want a date in May, others say June, more voices call out for July 1st starting point. No matter, there are none who can rightly determine that. What is clear, is that the costs to continue to not play, are mounting.

New Zealand Rugby handed their Super Rugby franchises $250,000 lifelines. Other national unions who have a central contract system, did the same. The Welsh Rugby Union had to act fast, in cutting wages by 25% and most rugby administrators around the globe, and had their remunerations trimmed.

Welsh rugby agrees on 25% pay cut to regional players

It is club rugby in Europe who might find it difficult to settle their books.

Rugby life in Europe may be severely affected

Some contend that Clubs and their backers will act to protect themselves. That is not a clear argument yet, the privately-owned organizations will surely find it hard to survive without gate takings, internal revenue streams and abandoned funding through broadcast rugby. So in fact, the type of rugby life that owners and players in Europe once enjoyed is being tested like never before.

Aside from reductions in sponsorship dollars and advertising, the wage bills continue. Some looked at broad cuts; Premiership clubs act as individual entities. Even while the EPCR watched on as the three leagues and it’s Champions/Challenge Cups stood idle, a lone voice stood up and called for a unique action.

Bernard Laporte may want the limelight for reasons more than just the health of the competitions he requested make vast changes to their operations. Maybe it was to create something fresh after Covid-19 that will bring the hemispheres together? Whether it stands any chance of proceeding, will be up to those in a higher payscale than I.

Yet, as fans, those calls affect you and me specifically.

The stakeholders will look at options, once government has given a green light once again to resume a rugby life. Still, whatever amendments are made, 2019/20 will be one season that stands out for all the wrong reasons. And leading clubs might find that it was a season of ‘what if?’

Best-placed French Top14 teams prior to Six Nations window

Some clubs were having a brilliant year in fact. The Bordeaux Begles had not tasted the heights of success they were enjoying in the Top14. Edinburgh were doing a sensational job of seeing off group rivals in the PRO14 comp. So while for some, it will be easier to disregard the season than others, fans will wonder how far those two teams fortunes may have gone in the playoffs.

Which team’s were leading at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic:

Super Rugby (after 7 rounds played) –

  • New Zealand conference – Crusaders
  • Australian conference – ACT Brumbies
  • South African conference – Sharks

Japan Top League – Panasonic Wild Knights (after 6 rounds)

Major League Rugby (after 5 rounds) –

  • Eastern conference – Toronto Arrows
  • Western conference – San Diego Legion

French Top14 – Bordeaux Begles (after 17 rounds)

Gallagher Premiership – Exeter Chiefs  (after 13 rounds)

Guinness PRO14 (after 13 rounds) –

  • Group A – Leinster
  • Group B – Edinburgh
All competitions postponed, until further notice

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Meanwhile, in Australia…..

Not only is the game halted and rugby communities affected from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, downunder in Australia they have their arms full with many more problems.

The professional game is sustained by broadcasting. That can be both a blessing and a curse. Benefitting from the support of TV whilst being at the mercy of the marketplace. And in Australia; with the downfall of the game at International and national level, fewer broadcasters are ‘in the market’. In fact, it has affected the ability of the governing body to self-finance, that it has created infighting. And at the forefront is embattled CEO Raelene Castle.

Troubles for Rugby Australia include; Israel Folau and his negotiated compensation payments, the acrimonious departure of Michael Cheika and his staff issues. Then the main broadcaster of rugby FOXtel went public with it’s sentiments on discounting the value of pay-TV broadcasting. The Rupert Murdoch media empire brought the heat on the CEO, and she has only survived until Easter with her tail firmly between her legs [sic].

If the coup attempt from Phil Kearns and his supporters is true, then it is compounded by news Rugby Australia face losses of up to A$120 million ($71.94 million) if no more games were played this year. This comes on the back of the body announcing a near A$10 million loss in 2019. That is one caustic organization – made worse by Covid-19.

Warren Gatland raised his hand, even suggesting that a British and Irish Lions v All Blacks Rematch could help to boost the ‘coffers’ in a $10 million Twickenham fixture.

The virus is blamed for trillions of dollars worldwide that will be much needed to prop-up sport. So if your rugby life seems interrupted by your club/franchise not playing, then maybe look at the bigger picture. Not a great one though yet it must unpleasantly continue in the near to short term.

Both XVs and Sevens have equally been affected by Covid-19. The news that the Tokyo Olympics sevens program had been postponed meant all 7s players’ dreams of Olympic gold were put on hold.

Some good news in these dark times

With all this disruption and skepticism, one may feel disillusioned by the atmosphere. What rugby fans need at this time is some ‘good news’. Less to do with anything secular, than as much as to provide a sense that from tragedy, can come recovery.

Two players who were each affected by devastating rugby/rugby league-related injuries in 2020 were Mose Masoe and Michael Fatialofa. Each had received horrible neck and spinal injuries. Fans and clubs were distressed by their situation, and that their family faced the possibility of a future incapacitated.

Time spent in hospital by both had resulted in quite sensational improvements after atrociously unlucky misfortunes on the field. Masoe was a Hull Kingsford-Rovers league player, and after his accident had gradually showed improvement since January, that he returned home last week. Fatialofa’s progress was outstanding (see below).

Now, by virtue of the wonderful care both athletes and their families received, they are able to make ‘steps’ toward recovery. Masoe wishing publicly to extend special thanks to the staff at Leeds General Infirmary for their ‘unbelievable care’.

The positive messages of support and the feel-good factor seen here are opposed to the major public health concerns of the Coronavirus pandemic. One where fans congregating to celebrate the game that Masoe and Fatialofa love, is not recommended at the moment. So even as players recover and others are made to sit idle, the wider public good is being considered by all rugby clubs.

Rugby fans too are considerate of the effects of sport on one’s rugby life – in no way relative only to injury. Not even similar to suffering under an umbrella of Coronavirus. The degree of empathy is both genuine and thankful. Not selfish, yet in terms of the problems of the world, a focus solely on one’s own rugby life does appear now a singular one.

2020 may be a guide to show fans that there is more to the game than individual passion. It could help point to a more shared passion. To a #rugbyunited version of the sport post-Covid-19.

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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