That was the month that was: May 2020

Terrrifying reports of major funding cutbacks in Welsh regional rugby sound alarm bells of full potential damage of Covid-19 crisis

Richard Hibbard and his- Dragons team-mates face an uncertain future as the WRU try to come to terms with the financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Richard Hibbard and his- Dragons team-mates face an uncertain future as the WRU try to come to terms with the financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

Bleak outlook for Welsh regions

The Sunday Times has reported that the four professional rugby teams in Wales are facing a fight for survival with their funding from the Welsh Rugby Union set to drop from £26 million to less than £3 million over the next year, which appears certain to lead to redundancies and extended wage cuts for top players.

The Welsh Rugby Players Association agreed to a 25 per cent wage cut for three months from 1st April but that is likely to be extended significantly, with the top earners in Wayne Pivac’s 38-man Wales squad potentially losing £100,000 a year.

The WRU is facing the prospect of a £60 million downturn in its annual income, which was £90.5 million in 2019.

The 320 clubs that make-up the community game have £11.8 million ring-fenced under the new agreement with the WRU, but the harsh reality for the professional game is massive savings will have to be made if the four regional sides are to be saved.


Stade Nicois eyeing professional third tier

Scottish Rugby’s partner club Stade Nicois is on a list of 13 candidates to form a third division of professional rugby in France for the new season. The proposed league would offer two promotion spots to PROD2.  Club officials believe that, in addition to providing a route to elite rugby, the introduction of PROD3 would increase player safety by removing one-sided matches between amateur and semi-professional sides in the current Federale 1 format, which features 60 clubs playing regionally followed by a national play-off. There were 35 professionals at Stade Nicois last season, with 11 new signings agreed for the upcoming campaign, among them likely to be some Scots.  Also on the list of clubs is Narbonne, who recently completed the signing of former Scotland Under-20s cap Ross Bundy. The 21-year-old was part of the Stirling County Super6 squad before seeing out the latter part of last season on loan at Darlington. Narbonne’s strong Scottish connection has seen Stuart Reid and Bryan Redpath play at the Mediterranean coast outfit in the past.


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Irish union backs inter-district tournament

Desperate to replace lost revenues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the IRFU has floated the prospect of an inter-provincial competition to be played later in the summer, with television rights sold to the highest bidder. The Irish provinces plan to resume training next month, with the IRFU reported to be in discussions with the Dublin Government to allow Ulster to move to a temporary base in Dundalk, bringing all four teams together south of the border. The planned tournament would feature a series of matches played behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium. The Irish proposal is similar to New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, which begins on 13 June and will feature matches at home and away between the country’s five provincial teams.


Tough start to Oz job for Clarke

Interim chief executive Rob Clarke had a tricky introduction to his job at Rugby Australia. Clarke, who stepped in as temporary replacement for departed Raelene Castle, was forced to sack three contracted players who refused to take a wage cut. The trio – international lock Izack Rodda, together with promising youngsters Isaac Lucas and Harry Hockings – were asked to accept the reduction to help the federation survive the coronavirus pandemic. Rugby Australia’s other 189 contracted players have accepted pay cuts of up to 60 percent for six months.


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Murrayfield front-runner for Lions Test

The Daily Telegraph has reported that Murrayfield has emerged as the favourite to host a planned warm-up Test for British and Irish Lions against Japan next June, prior to the squad’s departure on an eight match tour to South Africa.

It will be the first home Test for the Lions since they played Argentina in Cardiff in 2005. All three Celtic nations are understood to have pitched to host the game, while the Rugby Football Union indicated it was not prepared to make Twickenham available for fear of jeopardising their relationship with Premiership Rugby, because the fixture is scheduled for the same weekend as the English domestic game’s showpiece final.

The Telegraph says that the match will raise around £5million for the Lions, while engaging in particular with a Scottish audience is seen as a desirable option given the nation has provided so few players in recent tours.


Pollard and Piutau top earnings table

With Dan Carter and Matt Giteau now retired, David Pocock and Kieran Reid out of contract, and Brodie Retallick on a two-year sabbatical, there has been a shake up at the top of the list of global player salaries. According to Wales Online, the terms of a contract signed before the coronavirus pandemic took hold mean Springbok stand-off Handré Pollard will pocket £1 million annually from his deal with French outfit Montpellier. That figure is matched by the wage Bristol Bears are paying Charles Piutau. Two Scots feature in the leading 15 earners, with Stuart Hogg’s reputed £550,000 wage at Exeter Chiefs placing him tenth, while Finn Russell is not far behind in 13th spot, thanks to the £535,000 he earns at Racing 92.


Racing retain Russell

On a related note, Finn Russell has signed an extension to his contract at Racing 92, keeping him at the Parisian club until June 2023. It appears that the new deal came as a defence to approaches from two English clubs, with The Rugby Paper reporting that Bristol Bears and Bath had both attempted to lure the Scot back across the Channel.


RFU sign Umbro shirt deal

The RFU has signed a shirt deal reported to be worth more than £5 million a year with Umbro, a sportswear brand that has been out of fashion for some years but is now fighting back. The new agreement brings to an end a four-year contract with Canterbury that was due to finish this summer during England’s tour to Japan. That trip has now been cancelled.


Global tournament proposal dismissed

World Rugby moved swiftly to dismiss a proposal by former RFU boss Francis Baron for a 16-team World Cup-style tournament in the UK and Ireland next summer. Baron’s plan would have generated much-needed revenue for cash-strapped unions. However, the governing body issued a statement saying it had no intention of pursuing the idea.


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Murray takes top job in US

Scott Murray has been promoted by Major League Rugby outfit San Diego Legion and will share the head coach duties with Zack Test, who represented the United States at the World Cup and Olympic Games. Murray, who earned 87 caps caps for Scotland as a second row, has spent the past two seasons as the club’s forwards coach.


Sergio’s still planning his arrivederci

Sergio Parisse’s grand plan to sign off from international rugby with the Six Nations match against England was thwarted by the coronavirus. However, the 36-year-old has not yet ditched his ambitions of earning his 143rd cap for Italy and departing in style. Parisse, who has left Stade Francais but has agreed a one-year deal with Toulon, hopes that his wish for one final international appearance may yet be granted if the tournament resumes before the end of the year.


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Colin Renton
About Colin Renton 158 Articles
Colin has been a freelance writer on a range of subjects including sport, food & drink, travel and finance for more than 20 years. During that time, he has contributed to over 75 publications and websites. He is also an experienced proof reader and editor. Colin covers rugby at all levels but is particularly passionate about the game at grass roots. As a fluent French speaker, he has a keen interest in rugby in France and for many years has reported on the careers of Scots who have moved across the Channel to ply their trade. He appreciates high quality, engaging writing that is thought provoking, and hopes that some of his own work fits that bill!