Like every other sport in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, rugby is trying to plot a path forward in a world where the only certainty is uncertainty.
The Pro14 is no different to every other major sporting tournament that has so far avoided the temptation to declare their current campaign null and void. They want to complete the season, but how they do it depends on the guidance of governments rather than sporting bodies.
Richard Cockerill is using his time in lockdown to review his Edinburgh side’s performances so far this season in the hope they can, at some point, finish what they started.
“I think the Pro14 are looking at every avenue, as they would,” Cockerill said. “If we can get back playing, whether that’s July and August and we play through the summer months and start the new season in September, as clubs across Europe we’ll do whatever we can to make it work so we can have a viable game.
“It may be we have a shortened version of it, it may be we can play all eight rounds and a quarter, semi and final depending on what timescales look like. We’re all together in the thought that first we want to get back playing and if the season has to be curtailed in some form, or we have to go straight to a playoff system, or whatever that looks like just to get playing again and get income streams coming in.
“I think everybody’s committed to working together and, it may not be perfect, but to try and make it work to get the world turning again so to speak.”
‘I’d be uncomfortable going straight to final’
Cockerill is clear the aim must be, if circumstances allow, to complete this campaign before moving onto the next. And it’s no wonder. With 10 wins from 13 matches this season, Edinburgh sit at the top of Pro14 Conference B, not to mention a European Challenge Cup quarter-final date with Bordeaux.
A truncated end to the season could be a possibility, and while going straight to the end of season playoffs would bring some closure to the campaign, Cockerill would not be in favour of a straight shootout for the Pro14 title between his side and Conference A leaders Leinster.
“It’s important to try and get the season finished if we can, but how that looks I’m not so sure. There’s been chat about going straight to a final but I think that would be very harsh, given what’s happening, on teams like Glasgow, Ulster, Munster and Scarlets who are all very good sides as well.
“It’ll be very difficult to have a perfect scenario, but as a coach of a team that’s sitting top of a conference I’d probably be uncomfortable going straight to a final at this point because we probably haven’t earned the right to do that.
“It’s a little bit frustrating because we’ve done well in the conference, we’re sitting top with some big games to come both in the league and in Europe. It is a bit frustrating but there are bigger, more important things to deal with.
“We have to take that into consideration and make sure we do the right thing and make sure we get out through the other side of this as a club and as a community.”
One way other sports are exploring how to get up and running after this pandemic is to stage events behind closed doors with no spectators. Baby steps, but if it gets things moving again then Cockerill is all for it.
“Getting to play games in any way shape or form, getting games on television, whatever sport it is, would be great for everybody to get involved in. If we’re playing games that are on TV we have a revenue stream from TV rights, from sponsors and all those other things. Suddenly then there becomes a little bit of movement economically for everybody.
“Whatever we can do to make it work, instead of potentially seeing the negatives in it, we have to see the positives in it and as everybody is at the moment, try and make the best of what is a very difficult situation.”
‘Every business is fragile’
This unexpected halt to global rugby has given birth to wide-ranging discussion on first and foremost how the game can survive in light of a financial earthquake few could have predicted, but also what the sport should look like on the far end of this crisis.
A joined up rugby calendar aligning both hemispheres, a new club World Cup, the Lions touring North America – all sorts of brainwaves are being thrown into the mix. But to Cockerill’s mind, re-establishing a firm economic footing and curtailing previous financial excess are key to ensuring the long-term future of the game.
“The majority of outgoings are on player salaries. The market place probably has to level off around the price of players, which has been driven up year on year, whether it be the marquee player in England, teams signing overseas players or local players wanting market value.
“The market is now global for players and you’re competing against every market to keep your players. So I think that will probably level the playing field.
“Every business is fragile, isn’t it? It’s not just rugby that’s in this situation, it’s every business across the world. If you have no income, every business starts to struggle very quickly. It’s not unique to rugby. You have to keep it in that context, it’s happening to everybody.
“We can’t play, we don’t have a product so we can’t sell that product, we don’t have income thus we’re going to have financial difficulties.
“I think everybody is missing sport, it’s a huge part of society. Let’s hope when all sports are back playing everybody gets out there and gets to games to support their team, we can get the games that we love back on their feet and we can continue getting on with our lives again.”