Premiership rugby players question pay cuts before training return
Decision on when players can return to their clubs in England is due on Thursday
There will be no professional sport, even behind closed doors, in England until at least June 1st, the UK Government announced earlier this week. Photograph: PA
English Premiership rugby players are poised to seek clarification over whether their 25 per cent pay cuts will be stopped as well as what the Covid-19 testing procedures are before agreeing to return to training following approval from the UK government.
The English Premiership welcomed the DCMS guidelines which allow players to train individually, provided they are physically distanced, but the English Rugby Football Union warned there is “significant work to do” before that can happen. A decision on precisely when players can return to their clubs is expected on Thursday following a meeting between both organisations and the Rugby Players’ Association.
The guidelines also come with a host of conditions, including clubs conducting one-on-one discussions with players, who are required to “opt in” to returning to training. Wage cuts and concerns over testing – of which the guidelines made no mention – are expected to be raised.
As revealed by the Guardian, the initial 25 per cent wage cuts across the Premiership in March were met with resistance by players, largely because clubs did not adopt a uniform approach. Some stated they would last until players came off the government’s furlough scheme while others were less clear as to whether it would be until they resumed training, or until the clubs started receiving income again.
Players were given legal advice to reserve their position, with claims of unlawful deduction of wages likely, and if clubs are not willing to restore players to their full wages when they are expected to return to training, it could lead to further claims.
While clubs are expected to seek clarification, players returning to training in any capacity is highly likely to mean they no longer qualify for the government’s furlough scheme. One well-placed source said: “The problem will be when the players start returning to training and start expecting to be on full wages. That’s when the clubs will look at deferrals and further cuts. Discussions will happen all over again once the furlough stops.”
Even with the DCMS’s approval, the Premiership’s hopes of resuming the season by early July look to be dashed with the RFU seemingly insisting the move would need the union’s approval, making a swift return to training unlikely. The guidelines also make it clear that the government would have to give approval before contact training can begin and urge clubs to ensure they have the necessary insurance policies in place.
An RFU statement read: “While much has been done in recent weeks to establish protocols around a safe return to training and ultimately competition, there is still significant work to do and discussions to be had with players and staff before any form of training can resume, their welfare will be at the heart of our decisions.”
Meanwhile, Eddie Jones has called for a reduction in the number of replacements used in rugby from eight to six in what would constitute a radical law change to the game. The England head coach, who has repeatedly predicted the rise of more versatile “hybrid” players who can interchange between the forwards and backs, believes fewer replacements would lead to less emphasis on power.
“With eight subs you can replace half your team in the second half, so you’ve got power [AS A FOCUS],” Jones told the Rugby Ruckus podcast. “All those things have built a game where it’s suiting the power players … We should cut down the subs to six, which would put a different aspect on the game. So imagine that you carried three frontrows, one lock who could play backrow, one halfback and then a backline player that can cover from 10 to 15. That would certainly make it a more fatiguing game because you wouldn’t get that half a team being replaced.”