Coronavirus: ‘Desperate times’ for English rugby as clubs face battle to survive

Former All Black Malakai Fekitoa scores a try for Wasps against Gloucester last month. English Premiership clubs are expected to place their players on furlough "imminently" as the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak hits hard. GETTY IMAGES

The majority of English Rugby Premiership players, including England squad members, are expected to be placed on furlough “imminently” to prevent clubs going out of business because of the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Rugby Football Union, which has already furloughed around 340 of 540 members of staff, is also expected to put more employees on the –Government-funded income-support programme, which covers 80 per cent of salaries.

The move to put most players and staff at Premiership clubs on furlough was discussed at a Professional Game Board conference call meeting on Thursday. It is understood that one option is a reduction of the £7 million (NZ$14.6 million) salary cap for the first time. “Everything is on the table,” one source said. “These are desperate times.”

Worcester have already publicly confirmed they will put their players and staff on furlough and other clubs are expected to follow within days as part of an attempt to avoid wholesale redundancies.

Mark Lambert, the chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association, said that his 700-strong membership understood the severity of the situation and were prepared to be “part of the solution”.

Lambert, the Harlequins prop forward who is in his third year as RPA chairman, admitted that the clubs, who had originally brought in 25 per cent pay cuts, were having to take further action to secure their futures.

“The principle of being furloughed as a means of helping to save clubs is something that the players totally -understand,” Lambert said.

“We expect the majority of players and staff in the league, as well as many RFU staff, if it hasn’t already happened, to be furloughed imminently.

“The clubs have serious concerns around their financial futures. The programme is in place to support the cash flow into the business to pay wages of people who can’t do their job and we pretty much fall into that -category at the moment.


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