Australia have warned that tours to Europe in November may be sacrificed if the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic extends, a move that would have a significant impact on the four home unions who either have or are about to agree wage cuts to combat a sharp fall in revenue.
Raelene Castle, the chief executive of Rugby Australia, said after the governing body’s virtual annual meeting on Monday that the Test schedules for this year and next may need to be reorganised and the tour matches they were due to host against Ireland and Fiji were “highly unlikely” to go ahead.
Rugby Australia announced a provisional loss of £5m before a final audit and is holding talks with the players’ association this week about pay cuts. Castle has agreed to a 50% reduction in her salary with other executives taking home 30% less. RA’s finances took a hit from the legal battle with the former Wallaby full-back Israel Folau, who was sacked last year after posting homophobic comments on social media and settled out of court after appealing.
“What happens in July will ultimately be a decision that is made in consultation with World Rugby but, as each day goes by, the Tests are looking less and less likely to go ahead,” Castle said. “It may be that the end-of-season tour to Europe [Australia are due to play Ireland, France and England] is called off so we can reschedule the end of Super Rugby and play the Rugby Championship, something we might need to consider doing.
“There is a high probability the calendar will not look as it does at the moment this year or next. There is a lot of uncertainty over the cost of flights and how far players want to travel. We have contracts in place around delivering four Super Rugby teams and that is the model we are working to but it would be crazy not to be thinking about other scenarios that might roll out.”
World Rugby is working on alternative plans for the Test calendar should some or all of the tours in the northern hemisphere summer be called off. One is for a form of revenue sharing from the autumn internationals should the southern hemisphere unions have to cancel their matches.
The income from November Tests is vital for all the home unions but even more so this year. A hole in the calendar would provide the room to complete the 2020 Six Nations – with four matches outstanding – as well as domestic tournaments if the season were to resume by August but rejigging would have to be done next year to make up for any shortfall.
“We are in the midst of a global event and we are in constant contact with all of the major rugby nations in the world,” said the Welsh Rugby Union chairman, Gareth Davies. “Each of us has explained where we stand and what the financial implications of our situation are. We have discussed where we could be with the Six Nations and talked about the autumn and what happens with summer tours.
“We can work various contingency scenarios but we can’t currently answer the question of when we may resume. A good outcome would be the pandemic subsides by May or June and this season could be completed in the summer but what we must do in the meantime is plan for every contingency.”
Wales are due to play a Test in Japan at the end of June before travelling to New Zealand for two matches against the All Blacks. They have said they are prepared to fly out if the invitation remains but the policy of the government in New Zealand is that all visitors have to go into a two-week quarantine on arrival.
Australia will announce pay cuts for players this week after talks on Tuesday with the players’ association chief executive, Justin Harrison. The WRU held talks on Monday about the financial position of its four regions with the Pro14 season suspended indefinitely. It will follow the Premiership in negotiating pay cuts with an announcement likely by the end of the week.
“There is no way of knowing what damage this crisis will have on our game,” said the Rugby Australia chairman, Paul McLean. “It has forced us to make extremely difficult decisions and there will be even harder ones to come.”