Southern Hemisphere rugby has had to endure a period of change in the last month. Not battered to the same degree as Europe has, yet wage cuts, fans and players’ seasons disrupted, and unease for what the future may hold is certainly is disarming.

While still well mannered and constructive, everything has been spoken of, explained, and promoted as ‘options’. Knowing that resources and financial reserves were quickly being removed, the recent announcements from New Zealand Rugby invites more questions on earnings and new competitions that may replace established relationships.

Players and national and domestic team/franchise staff have all been directly affected. Wage cuts and professional rugby freezing 50 percent of forecasted player payments in response to the Coronavirus pandemic are the most obvious. Mostly rational but still severe enough that all manner of related subjects.

That includes changing/reducing existing competitions due to border restrictions or, scrapping some long-established competitions like The Rugby Championship. Those and others have come without confirmation that anything will change, yet, it gives options and opportunities for affected stakeholders and other teams/players.

Wage cuts/new competitions considered; Southern Hemisphere rugby

Obviously, there will be pain felt economically by individuals. It began with management staff, administration and in the back office. People were ‘let go’ or put on furlough leave. Some could still contribute via remote device but once the one-on-one contact was suffocated by Covid-19, we all felt it.

Now official figures have been issued. NZ Rugby Players Association head Rob Nichol acted on behalf of the men and women who are contracted to NZR. “As a result, we have agreed to immediately freeze approximately $25 million, or 50 percent, of the remaining forecasted player spend in 2020.

“In the event that this financial scenario eventuates [Coronavirus lockdown/border closures], the frozen payments and benefits would become waived permanently. Alternatively, if professional rugby can resume and the financial outlook improves, then some of the frozen payments and benefits could be reinstated,” said Nichol.

Player retainers were primarily affected, however, for many representative All Blacks, fringe benefits lost is more calculable then say for a semi-professional Mitre 10 Cup player. But one condition that was retained by NZRPA negotiations, was for the contracted Black Ferns players. They will continue to receive squad assembly fees over this period.

New Zealand Black Ferns Training Session
The Black Ferns look on during a New Zealand Black Ferns training session at Grammar Tec Rugby Club on July 30, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The women’s game is affected just as much, and with less professional remuneration, the equity within NZR’s control should be balanced and fair. Every Southern Hemisphere rugby fan would want a fair sharing of both wage cuts and lost incomes.

Domestic rugby abandoned; Professional competitions postponed

In the NZ Heartland Rugby Championship – division three and four – all rugby competitions were cancelled in March. That was due to the feeder club rugby program immediately affected by Coronavirus disruption. With no assembling of players to train or play, the planned 2020 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship, Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 Tournament, TECT National Sevens Tournament and all Provincial Union representative rugby tournaments, excluding the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup, were affected.

As it stands, Level 3 restrictions in NZ would still not permit teams to train in any way. Only people within your ‘bubble’ can train with you. Interestingly, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown are flatmates, so they might be fortunate to have a mate to continue to train with.

Otherwise, until further notice, no rugby teams can operate in a normal fashion.

That has created conversations on the timing of professional competitions. Added to by the likes of World Rugby vice-chair, Agustin Pichot, SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos and many other administrators, suggesting alternative schedules and even, conjunctive tournaments.

The implications of not playing meant questions were posed over the timing of competitions – established ones, or newly created.

Bernard Laporte was calling for a ‘Club World Cup’ where teams from both hemispheres might play one another. Statements came from World Rugby that the game could be reset. But unlike a collapsed scrum [apologies Sir Bill] the ref can’t simply blow his whistle. No clear end to Coronavirus lockdown can be pointed to. It could be next month…..it could be in June, July or later.

It seems unnecessary and distorted to propose anything other than the established comps. Far too inventive to suggest that a reduced Super Rugby competition commence, with no South African teams but where a Pacifica side is produced. From where do these players come from? Coached and financed by who? And for what purpose? The options on the table [apologies Sir Ted] are becoming fanciful.

No timeline creating unnecessary ‘new competition’ suggestions

Soon the option of playing both The Rugby Championship international matches and Super Rugby at the same time was proposed by the Sanzaar boss. It was far-fetched. Something that might be seen as innovative by some, just sounded convoluted and impractical for the majority of Southern hemisphere rugby followers.

Rugby doesn’t need as many new inventions, as it does good self-control. It should not force fear of financial crisis into the minds of every stakeholder just to then offer alternative, and expensive options. Each entity will react and be affected individually – New Zealand Rugby has a ‘war chest’ of revenue to survive on. Fiji or Georgia do not!

Georgia Rugby
Georgia’s captain Mamuka Gorgodze (C) lines up with teammates prior to a Pool C match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup (Photo credit BERTRAND LANGLOIS/Getty Images)

Provide resources to the neediest, while giving reassurance to the masses. Rugby Australia might be deserving too yet Irish and Welsh rugby unions would both want an equal financial umbrella in the long term. That is to say, the problems won’t go away quickly sad to say. But Super Rugby administrators and drivers must stay realistic.

costing more to develop new competitions now, than to just ‘wait and see’ on existing ones.

No doubt, the International calendar will be upset. Yes. So be it. If I were writing a wish list, a lot of you would start by staggering the recommencement of any domestic form of competition. No travel outside borders, restricting the risk for players and if so, played in empty stadiums.

Once some form of rugby can be played; be it isolated leagues or a traditional format like the Currie Cup, then look at what can be reintroduced safely. Not what can be ‘dreamed up’ to feather the nest.

Like at the start of any rugby fixture, fans will be patient. And so should the game.

 

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