EVEN if there is no further play in this present PRO14 season, there must be some acknowledgement by the organisers of how well some teams have played, according to George Taylor.
The Edinburgh centre’s own side would be one of those standing to benefit from such a move, given they are currently top of Conference B. But the vexed question is how to give credit to them and to other leading teams if it proves impossible, because of coronavirus restrictions, to complete the regular PRO14 campaign.
So far the organisers of the league have only announced an indefinite suspension of the regular season and the cancellation of the final that was due to have been played in Cardiff in June, in addition to decreeing that if any final is to be played as part of this season, it should be hosted by the team with the best league record. If we were to go straight to play-offs, that would make Leinster the hosts, as they are undefeated at the top of Conference A.
As Edinburgh are top of Conference B, they could find themselves travelling to Dublin for a straight shoot-out as a way to wrap up this season, perhaps as a curtain-raiser to the 2020-21 campaign. But the bottom line for Taylor is that, while he and his team-mates have talked informally about what might happen, come what may their efforts have to be noted in some way by the authorities.
“We need a recognition of how well the season has gone,” the 23-year-old said yesterday. “There was chat that we’d manage to play Glasgow at home in the 1872 decider, and there was chat that as it stands we would be having a home semi against one of the other teams who are second or third, I think.
“For the season to be void it would be pretty dampening on all the players and Cockers [Richard Cockerill] as coach. I would like to think the season does finish off in some way. It would be good to have another game to try and reach the final if there is one.
“It’s not something the staff or players have spoken about together,” Taylor continued when asked if the prospect of that shootout between Edinburgh and Leinster in Dublin had been discussed. “We take it game by game and obviously our next game is unknown. That’s why we’re training to keep our fitness levels as high, to be prepared for the next game, whatever that may be.”
It appears inevitable that, in one respect at least, Taylor will be granted his wish. Even if the play-offs are scrapped, a final is ruled out and no more rugby is played in the 2019-20 season, a decision will be needed on how to allocate places in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup for next season. As the top three from each conference go through by right to the Champions Cup, where they are joined by the winners of the fourth-placed play-off, that should mean places in the premier European competition for both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“Obviously Europe is another difficult one and there will be a lot of discussion about it,” Taylor added. “But as players we’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in the position, and it’s just unfortunate that this has come when it has.”
Since the season was suspended, Taylor has been working with the family firm, Merlin Vet, in the Borders. Lifting boxes of veterinary pharmaceuticals has helped him keep in condition, but he has also been given a fairly rigorous fitness programme by the Edinburgh strength and conditioning team.
“The Edinburgh S&C guys are pretty switched on in terms of keeping our fitness levels up,” he explained. “They did a home delivery before all this lockdown happened with a lot of gym equipment and accessories for all the players, so they know what each player has and they’re sending out personal programmes in accordance with the equipment. In terms of the programme, we’re still running, doing fitness sessions three times a week, we’re in the gym three times a week, so the S&C staff and the players are doing their best to keep us in shape.
“No-one really knows when and if [the season] will re-commence. We’re still staying ahead of the game just in case it does. There would be nothing worse than if you were told you’ve got two weeks until your next game and all our players were unprepared.”
For the time being at least, Taylor and his team-mates, as well as their counterparts at Scotstoun, remain on full pay. Cockerill and other leading coaches, along with SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, agreed salary deferrals on Tuesday, but Taylor said he had yet to be informed of anything similar being suggested for the players – most of whom, in any case, earn substantially less than the union boss and the leading coaches.
“There has been no discussion about that. As far as we know salaries remain the same. We’ve got a good team working around us, and everything that progresses on that front, we’re the first ones to know. As far as I’m aware there’s nothing been mentioned to us.
“There’s been a couple of discussions within the SRU, Mark Dodson taking a deferral. But from the players’ union we’ve only been updated about that. They are the first people to get information about salaries, so there’s been nothing to the players as yet.”