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Davies: Club rally round & WRU update

25/03/2020

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies has written to member clubs praising the empathetic attitude shown in a universally supportive response to the decision to cancel the 2019/20 domestic season last week.

Davies singled out Pontypool rugby club, who were bidding for promotion to the Indigo Group Premiership as they looked for a fourth successive SWALEC Championship title in a season where automatic promotion was available, as an example of how the decision was taken in ‘good grace and proper perspective’ across the board in Wales.

"We received a flurry of responses understandably expressing disappointment but all showing absolute empathy for the situation we are all in," said Davies.

"This attitude was exemplified by Pontypool rugby club who wrote an open letter accepting with good grace and proper perspective the decision which has meant no relegation or promotion for anyone this season.

"And this is an attitude which has permeated throughout the country, across the length and breadth of Wales the community game has universally accepted the decision and is rallying round in support of those most in need and here, at the Welsh Rugby Union, we will continue to do all we can to support this act."

Davies was speaking in the WRU’s weekly status update, issued today (Wednesday 25th March) which expounds a continually evolving plan for Welsh rugby ‘to emerge from the current crisis with all teams and clubs, whether they be amateur, semi-professional or professional, intact and able to have a sustainable future’.

The update also spells out the steps being taken to help community clubs, confirming that each has now received a £1,000 hardship payment, also commits to searching for new funds and offers advice on a range of club-specific issues, such as cost cutting and reducing bills, cellar management, a bank loan payment holiday and advice on seeking Welsh Government new business support packages.

It confirms that Women and girls rugby falls in line with the announcement of the cancellation of all WRU Competition for 2019/20 season and, for further clarity, that this cancellation includes the Women and Girls cup competition that began in March.

In addition the WRU Female Hubs and the provision of alternative formats for senior women will be reviewed in line with government advice on an ongoing basis as will the Regional Programme (Seniors and U18s) set to take place in June, July and August.

In the professional game clubs were also updated on event postponements from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where Jaz Joyce, Hannah Jones and Keira Bevan had already been named as part of Team GB, to the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in London and Paris, the women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Langford, the final men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series event, Rugby World Cup 2021 and 2023 regional qualifying events and the cancellation of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2020.

But, with the hugely positive news that CEO Martyn Phillips is now set to stay on at the helm of the WRU for the foreseeable future - to help Welsh rugby through these unusual times - planning for the resumption of rugby, once the conditions are right, continues.

"We continue to work with our partners at Six Nations, European Professional Club Rugby and PRO14 to find the way ahead," said Phillips.

"The prospect of re-scheduling events is something that is still forming a part of contingency planning for a time when the pandemic has abated.

"WRU Board has been updated on plans to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic on WRU business and the professional game in Wales in general and regular meetings are taking place with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) and Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) in order to manage the negative impact on the elite end of the game.

"The Union is engaged in a constant process of financial modelling and re-modelling, to contingency plan for all foreseeable scenarios.

"A good outcome would be that 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."

WRU Status Update - 25.03.20

Our Goal

Our goal is simple. We plan to emerge from this crisis with the WRU and all teams and clubs, whether they be amateur, semi-professional or professional, intact and able to have a sustainable future.

Community game

On Friday 20th March the WRU Board confirmed the cancellation of the 2019/20 season for all WRU competitions. The decision applies to all WRU cup and league competitions as well as the cross-border competition between Welsh and Scottish clubs due to kick off in April. This means that there will be no promotion or relegation in any of the WRU leagues and teams will remain in the league they are currently in. Rugby activity remains suspended and facilities closed until further notice and this includes no organised training or games, use of club gym facilities, organised sessions or any unsanctioned gatherings at rugby premises.

Three key rugby factors helped inform this decision:

  • No team in any league is currently mathematically guaranteed promotion or relegation
  • There are 1,113 WRU Specsavers National League and Indigo Group Premiership games that would need to be played to complete league competitions or to put this another way, only 65% of the season had been completed.
  • An absolute minimum of eight weeks would be required to complete the outstanding fixtures

A significant number of potential solutions were explored, but ultimately it was agreed that the only consistent and fair option was to cancel the season.

Women and girls rugby

In line with the announcement of the cancellation of all WRU Competition for 2019/20 season, for further clarity, this cancellation includes the Women and Girls cup competition that began in March. In line with the suspension of all rugby activity in Wales, this suspension includes the WRU Female Hubs. Any future Female Hub activity following the end of the traditional season and the provision of alternative formats for senior women will be reviewed in line with government advice on an ongoing basis. The Regional Programme (Seniors and U18s) set to take place in June, July and August will also be reviewed continually in line with government advice.

Seasonal Repositioning Trial

Last June, based on feedback from clubs and participants in a trial of mini-rugby during the summer months, a further seasonal repositioning trial programme, set to involve matches in June and July 2020, was announced.

This trial is based largely on the traditional rugby season but introduced a new winter break for mini-rugby for participating clubs in December and January and with a shorter extension to the season to incorporate some of the benefits experienced by players and volunteers last summer – but with a clear break for everyone during the school holidays. More than 65 clubs around Wales were to be part of this second trial, but the prospect of continuing in June and July will now obviously be reviewed on a continuing basis and in line with government advice.

What are we doing to help?

Finances

All clubs have received a support document detailing funding sources and offering help and support in a variety of ways. The information includes the immediate steps that clubs can take to reduce ongoing costs. Guidance is also provided on the medium to long term finance options and cost saving measures that clubs may wish to consider. Further detail is supplied in the document on the waving of broadcast service subscriptions for clubs by Sky Sports, BT Sport and Premier Sports, which are making varying positive provisions. Clubs have been linked up with Molson Coors and Heineken offering advice and support on brewing issues, including how to close down cellars and manage existing loans etc.

Natwest bank have confirmed that clubs are able to apply for a deferment of 6 months on capital repayments and clubs are encouraged to contact the WRU’s official energy supplier Amber energy, with whom we are partnering to deliver the WRU Energy Framework 2020. In a nutshell, by buying energy centrally on behalf of all participating clubs, the WRU can achieve some major savings and help clubs to reduce their energy bills because a lot of costs applied when suppliers supply small businesses such as rugby clubs are removed.

More detail is also available on Welsh Government new business support packages and HMRC’s capacity to defer payments PAYE/VAT payments and the WRU will continue communicate to clubs on these issues. A helpline has been established for clubs to ask any specific questions that may not be covered in support document described. We are working closely with our external partners in order to provide clubs with the most appropriate advice.

A key priority for April: We have set up a help centre to provide support for all clubs and are continuing to develop both the process and methodology for working out what further financial support can be offered to clubs and determining how we would allocate additional funds should they become available.

All member clubs can contact the helpline through the following email address - clubdevelopment@wru.wales Finally, payments of £1k per club notified in last week’s update have now been made to all member clubs in Wales.

Resources

Our on and off-field teams are in the process of creating exciting activities and content to be shared on social media and via the online Game Locker portal (www.wrugamelocker.wales), including input from National Squad conditioning and performance staff so please continue to watch this space.

Many WRU hub officers are currently involved in supporting the school provision for children of key workers and there are plans for the WRU Digital classroom resource to become more widely available to all schools.

In the long term we plan to trial online courses for coaches, referees and other volunteers as part of our regular Continued Professional Development (CPD) provision, to help ensure that all parties are ready to hit the ground running again once rugby can be resumed.

Professional game

The men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in London and Paris has been postponed, provisionally until September. The women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Langford has been postponed until later in the year. The final men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series event has been postponed until later in the year. Some Rugby World Cup 2021 and 2023 regional qualifying events have been postponed.

The World Rugby U20 Championship 2020, scheduled to be hosted in northern Italy in late June and July, has been cancelled following detailed consultation with the Federazione Italiana Rugby and, this week, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 informed us that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed.

Meanwhile, also this week, WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips agreed to stay on at the helm for the foreseeable future and this news gives much needed stability at this important time.

"It has been my great privilege to work for Welsh rugby over the last five years and it has become clear to us all, that now is not a good time to begin the transition to a new CEO, so I am only too pleased to continue in the role as we negotiate unprecedented circumstances," said Phillips.

"Our goal is simple. We have set ourselves the goal to emerge from this crisis with the WRU and all teams and clubs, whether they be amateur, semi-professional or professional, intact and able to have a sustainable future.

"I know how much rugby means to Wales and I am committed to stay until such a time as we reach calmer waters and we can again enjoy what sport and rugby means to us all.

"There are so many people across Wales making huge sacrifices at the moment to support us all through extraordinarily difficult times. Compared to the challenges they are facing and against that wider context I had no decision to make."

Martyn and his executive team will continue to work closely with World Rugby, Six Nations, EPCR and Pro14 on all options for the resumption of rugby once the conditions are right.

"Whilst the 2019/20 Welsh rugby season has been cancelled we continue to work with our partners at Six Nations, European Professional Club Rugby and PRO14 to find the way ahead," added Phillips.

"The prospect of re-scheduling events is something that is still forming a part of contingency planning for a time when the pandemic has abated.

"At a board meeting scheduled for today, Wednesday 25th March, the WRU Board will be updated on plans to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic on WRU business and the professional game in Wales in general.

"Regular meetings are taking place with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) and Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) in order the manage the negative impact on the elite end of the game.

"The Union is engaged in a constant process of financial modelling and re-modelling in order to contingency plan for all foreseeable scenarios.

"A good outcome would be that 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."

We continue to work with our partners at Six Nations, European Professional Club Rugby and PRO14 to find the way ahead...
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