Premiership Rugby considering midweek matches in order to finish season
Playing games behind closed doors, staging multiple matches at single venues and scheduling midweek fixtures are among options under discussion to see this season’s Gallagher Premiership season completed.
English rugby union’s flagship domestic competition is on hold until at least April 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It has nine rounds of regular season action remaining, plus play-off semi-finals and a Twickenham final – and the start of next term is just six months away.
With the season suspended, several Premiership clubs recently announced player pay-cuts.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs accepts that summer rugby is “inevitable” if the competition is to have any chance of a successful conclusion.
England are currently due to play Tests in Japan on July 4 and 11, which would impact player availability for summer Premiership games, although all tours must be rated doubtful at this stage.
Childs, who revealed that he and Premiership Rugby’s chief financial officer have taken wage-cuts to show solidarity with players amid the coronavirus crisis, says “all options are on the table”.
“Our number one priority is to find a way to play, and that is what we are all working on behind the scenes,” Childs told the PA news agency.
“We want to get this season finished, and if that means playing over the summer, then we will do that, as long as it is safe to do so. We won’t take any risks about anyone’s health and welfare.
“Rugby does make an impact on medical staff and hospitals because of the nature of it, and that is an absolute priority for us to make sure we are not taking any of those resources away.
“Our aim is really clear. We are all working to try and hopefully be the first sport back on television, whether that is in a closed stadium or an open stadium.
“We are looking at all kinds of ideas – whether we do compressed weekends; whether we will play three or four rounds on one weekend from a single venue; we are looking at midweek games.
“It is inevitable that if we can restart, we are going to be playing through the summer.
“There is no plan at the current moment to delay the start of the 2020-21 season. These things might come close to each other this year, but I think it is a unique year and that maybe one of the scenarios we have to run.”
Childs, meanwhile, confirmed no change to relegated Saracens’ fate – whatever happens to the current campaign.
Last year’s Premiership title and Champions Cup winners will play in the second-tier Championship next term as part of their punishment for multiple salary cap breaches.
English rugby’s domestic season below the Premiership has been cancelled by the Rugby Football Union, with promotion-seeking Newcastle 18 points clear at the top.
On Saracens, Childs said: “There is no change. That is done, closed and sealed.
“We know who is at the top of the Championship, and we are hoping that is a pretty straightforward decision.
“It is an RFU decision, and I think they are getting reasonably close to making that decision.”
Childs said that Premiership Rugby’s hoped-for April 24 restart date was being reviewed almost daily.
“The players have been given three weeks so they can rest up and spend time with their families,” he added.
“The current hope, if we can, is to get them back into training and match-fit for that weekend, but we will probably make a decision in the next week to 10 days on the suitability of being able to do it.
“Things seem to be changing on a daily basis, so I am very much out of the prediction business.
“Our preference is to have play-offs and the final and play the season out. We are looking at a whole bunch of different scenarios.
“The decision on which way we go will depend purely on when it is safe to play rugby again.
“All options are on the table right now, but our absolute preference and the one we are working towards is playing the season out as much as we can over those summer months.
“There is no reason why we couldn’t play four games over a weekend in a single stadium.
“To be able to concentrate things in one area, certainly if it is a closed-door game, means we can be sensible about trying to reduce the impact on the TV operations, the crews and the filming by compressing it into one venue.”
Asked about the potential close proximity between this season ending and the next one starting, Childs said: “We are looking at that right now.
“The reason why the clubs have put the players on a three-week break is to have that option to potentially compress the end of this season and the beginning of next season, but it is just an option.
“If it is a shorter break than the normal one, I think we are going to get a lot of support for that.
“We are looking at all player-welfare issues in relation to playing midweek games.
“What we don’t want to do is to compress it so much that it creates player-welfare issues, and we just wouldn’t do that.
“We do think we have got some good ideas about how maybe we could stack games over weekends and stuff like that.
“Our priority is the Premiership and getting the elite game going as soon as we can.”