European revamp on the table
Rugby clubs around the world have an eye on generating income to address the shortfalls they are currently enduring. Finances are a big driver for the changes to European competitions being proposed by Toulouse and backed by fellow Top 14 outfit Clermont Auvergne, whose president Eric de Cromieres told La Montagne newspaper that he is fully behind the plan.
The Toulouse proposition, which has been sent to the organisers, ECPR, would see the number of qualifiers rise from 20 to 24 – eight clubs each from the English Premiership, French Top 14 and Guinness PRO14. The pool section would comprise eight sections of three teams, freeing up additional dates and removing the final round of qualifying matches, which are often a dead rubber and not taken seriously. Pool winners would qualify for quarter-final matches played home and away, with one-off fixtures for the semis and final. While the global pandemic will dictate the final outcome, the proposal also factors in completion of this year’s tournaments with quarter-finals – Edinburgh are scheduled to meet Bordeaux on Challenge Cup duty – on the weekend of 13/14 September, semis on 3/4 October and the finals two weeks later.
Positive news with negative drugs tests in Japan
Japan Rugby has announced the results of widespread rugby testing that took place in March. The exercise was carried out after evidence of drug use at several clubs led to the league programme being halted. Of the 884 registered players in the Top League, 692 were tested and all returned negative outcomes. There have been several drug scandals in Japanese rugby, most recently the arrest of New Zealander Joel Everson of Hino Red Dolphins for allegedly using cocaine.
Double income blow for Fijians
Fijian internationals have agreed a 40% salary cut to help their federation survive the global crisis. It is a particularly heavy blow for those players who are currently operating in Australian Super Rugby teams which have also imposed cuts of up to 60%. Although not directly linked, Rugby Australia has confirmed that it is to offer a sabbatical at some point between next year and 2023. The option will be available to players who have been contracted for a minimum number of years and will be unpaid.
Owens to keep on whistling
Nigel Owens has revealed his intention to referee for at least one more year, ending speculation that he was planning to retire from rugby. While admitting that it will be up to World Rugby to decide the level at which he officiates, Owens will definitely be operating at domestic and European level next season. Although not the only consideration, the prospect of bowing out on a low note as a result of the current lockdown was one reason for Owens, who has accepted a 25% wage cut, extending his career.
Gatland proposes All Blacks clash for Lions
Warren Gatland has proposed a match between the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks as a send-off before next year’s tour to South Africa. The clash would be billed as a decider of the 2017 tour which ended in parity with a win apiece and a draw. Early estimates suggest the tie could generate revenues of around £5 million. Gatland has raised the matter with the New Zealand Rugby chief executive, Mark Robinson. The provisional date is 26th June, the same weekend as the Gallaher Premiership final. Both matches could take place at Twickenham although the Principality Stadium and BT Murrayfield might also host the Lions.
Cramond leaves Brittany for Biarritz
Former Scotland Under 20 captain Andy Cramond will add another French destination to his CV when he lines up for Biarritz next season. The 26-year-old, who has also played or Toulon and Pau, turned down the offer of a contract extension at his current club Vannes where he has been since 2017.
College draft for American clubs
The American Major League will follow a path trodden by other sports with a college player draft that will take place next month. The process will involve 12 of the 13 teams scheduled to compete in next season’s championship – the Glendale Raptors have withdrawn from the competition and Toronto will focus on developing Canadian talent. The new franchises, Dallas and Los Angeles will have first pick, with the others based on the positions occupied when the league programme was halted because of the coronavirus. That puts the SRU’s partner club Old Glory 11th in the pecking order.
Coventry crowdfunding to pay the bills
With revenues drying up, clubs have been forced to be creative in generating income. It has been particularly tough for clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship, the English second tier. Still reeling from a brutal reduction in RFU financial support, many have been forced to rein in spending plans for next season. Several will become semi-professional. Meanwhile, Coventry launched a crowdfunding campaign, primarily to settle existing bills and create a solid platform on which to build for next season.
Veteran Molitika bowing out
Elsewhere in the Greene King IPA Championship, time has finally caught up with former Tongan international, Maama Molitika, who is retiring from the game at the age of 45. The back-row forward has spent the past seven seasons at Ampthill, having also played for Bridgend, Japanese side IBM Big Blue, San Dona in Italy, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins and Cardiff Blues. And it’s a sign of his powers of endurance that he earned the first of his 18 caps in the last millennium – his debut against Fiji having come in 1997.
Doc Roberts in demand
Among the higher profile contributors to the struggle against the coronavirus is Jamie Roberts, who is a qualified doctor. While he was in South Africa playing with Stormers, the Wales and British & Irish Lions centre offered the use of his Cardiff flat to an A&E medic. Now, with Super Rugby halted, he has returned home and has volunteered to work with the NHS. He is unable to practice, having never worked clinically, and has been given a ‘motivational role’ at the University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, where he trained. One of his first tasks was to act as MC at the opening of the Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig, the temporary hospital based at the Principality Stadium.