SRU performance director Jim Mallinder open-minded about return of PRO14

The Scottish Rugby Union remains open-minded about any attempts to restart the Guinness PRO14 season, according to performance director Jim Mallinder.

Outgoing Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie called for Conference A leaders Leinster to be awarded the title after winning their first 13 matches, but that clearly is not a view shared by his employer, which also runs Edinburgh.

Mallinder said: “From an SRU point of view we wouldn’t agree with that and I guess that PRO14 would probably have something to say, and I guess (Edinburgh head coach) Richard Cockerill would have something to say about it as well.

“I don’t think we’ve played enough matches to give the title to Leinster. Clearly they’ve had an outstanding start, and it’s been brilliant for them to go unbeaten, but there are some other sides who are playing well.

Dave Rennie called for the season to be scrapped
Dave Rennie called for the season to be scrapped

“What we’ve said at the moment is that there’s the season, then the play-offs, then the final, and that it’s the winner of that who should get it. That’s why I don’t agree that Leinster should be given it.”

Rennie’s main concern was for players who are in limbo and need a rest, warning not to “flog” them with a 13 to 14 month campaign.

“Yes, without a doubt, player welfare is massive,” Mallinder said. “It’s really very, very important. I’ve been in touch with Bill Mitchell in terms of Rugby Players Scotland and we’ve been in constant dialogue.

“We have to make sure that whatever we have in terms of season structure is right for the businesses and the players, but it’s a very difficult one.

“We know there is probably not going to be any rugby at least before June and we know then at the right time there will be a phased return to rugby in terms of individual training.

Jim Mallinder started with the SRU in January
Jim Mallinder started with the SRU in January

“We are already now looking at individual, then coming into training facilities to build that up to smaller groups, and getting full contact.

“We’re looking at this from small groups all the way through to playing a game, initially behind closed doors, and then, ultimately – which we know will be quite a time away – coming back to playing, hopefully, in front of full stadiums.

“It is a difficult one and we know that in terms of the PRO14 next week they’ve got a review in terms of the scenario planning, with lots of scenarios to put in place.

“They are taking advice from all the unions, and the medical side, so we’re still very open-minded PRO14 wise about restarting or restructuring, whatever that might be, but at the moment no decision has been taken as yet.”

Mallinder began his role in January but his plans to continue assessing the set-up were thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We don’t quite know how bad it is going to be but I think it is going to affect rugby worldwide and by talking to other people around the world it really does look like finances are going to be stretched,” he said.

“Youngster-wise and development-wise, it might not be a bad thing. So, looking at positives from this, is this an opportunity to be playing more youngsters and giving them more game time?

“Those are the sorts of questions we are asking ourselves when looking at our squads at the moment.”