Instead of shaping up for a busy round of fixtures next weekend that was due to commence with Friday night’s visit of champions Saracens to Bristol, Monday’s decision to suspend the Gallagher Premiership until the weekend of April 24-26 at the earliest has left clubs scrambling to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
Here, RugbyPass checks in on all twelve English league clubs to see what they are up to now their calendars are suddenly empty and there are no matches to prepare for in the immediate future.
With their game against London Irish postponed, Bath CEO Tarquin McDonald took to the club’s website with a message for supporters. “We are continuing to put measures in place to deal with ongoing developments,” he said. “Our priority continues to be to protect public health and support in delaying the spread of Covid-19. We want to ensure our city, supporters, players and staff stay safe.”
There has been no published update concerning specific arrangements regarding the Bath players, but RugbyPass learned through Freddie Burns they are training away on their own at the moment. “I’m in lockdown like the majority of people… it’s a tricky time,” he said ahead of filming some footage about what life is like in lockdown.
The Bears haven’t been shy in explaining how its staff embarked on a period of “active rest” away from the club’s Cribbs Causeway training base. “Players have been issued with tailored individual fitness programmes, including GPS monitors and training equipment,” they outlined on bristolbearsrugby.com. They have been commended by Gallagher UK for particularly highlighting a constructive approach to managing mental health in the coming weeks.
“The club understands the challenges of the current situation and how it can affect the mental health of our players and staff. We have introduced a number of measures to support and manage well-being during this period of isolation, including regular team video conference meetings, quizzes, skills challenges and team WhatsApp groups to ensure consistent communication. At times of stress, we work better in company and with support. We urge our community to keep in touch with loved ones for emotional support.”
Coach Pat Lam, who announced a one-year contract extension for Jake Armstrong on Wednesday morning, also posted a video message on Twitter thanking the “wonderful NHS and all of those on the front line for keeping us safe”.
?? "To our wonderful NHS and all of those on the front line, thank you for keeping us safe."
A message from Pat ? pic.twitter.com/LCt7KGmTL3
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) March 18, 2020
The league leaders were planning to come back last Monday to prepare for their match versus Leicester but that schedule was scratched when Rob Baxter emailed his squad telling them to stay away for the next while. Veteran out-half Gareth Steenson provided excellent insight on Wednesday into what life is now suddenly like away from the club, a situation likely to last for the next few weeks at least.
“The club are giving us regular updates and my wife (Karen) is a GP, so she is right on the frontline of things and keeps me updated with everything,” explained Steenson, who has been training on his own at home. “I guess the big thing, though, is that none of us knows when things are going to change. It’s very much up in the air and things are changing all the time.”
In a statement, club owner Tony Rowe said: “These are unprecedented times for everyone and our priority has to be to not only protect public health but do our utmost to prevent the spread of the virus.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 18, 2020
Beaten in their last five league matches, Johan Ackermann’s strugglers would have hoped their now postponed trip to Worcester next weekend would have provided the chance to end their worrying slump in form. Instead, the squad has been told to stay away from the club’s training base at Hartpury College and follow individually tailored fitness programmes until at least April 6.
In a statement posted on gloucesterrugby.co.uk, the club explained: “Players have been issued with tailored individual fitness programmes in order to allow them to continue to train and prepare for the planned return of the Gallagher Premiership on w/c April 20.
“In addition to the players’ physical requirements, we are also conscious of their mental health and of the importance of the squad dynamic. With that in mind, we will be utilising modern communication methods to ensure regular communication as a group. These are challenging times, unprecedented in their nature, and everything is subject to change at present, but we will issue updates to our supporters and stakeholders whenever possible.”
Take a bow, @LouisReesZammit ?
Out of this world wing play from the breakout start to tee up @LewisLudlow94 with a one-handed, behind-the-back offload ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) March 18, 2020
The London club provided the first indication that the season was set for a suspension when a staff member took ill last Friday and it resulted in the postponement of last Sunday’s Premiership Rugby Cup final at Sale.
In light of the subsequent call-off of league fixtures, CEO Laurie Dalrymple explained on the club website how they are now coping with the evolving situation. “Our backroom staff member who was reported as suffering flu symptoms last Friday, we took the precaution of moving them into isolation and I’m pleased to say they are feeling stable, if less than 100 percent, and displaying no further concerning symptoms.
“Since last Friday, all of our staff, where possible, have been told to work from home to reduce the risk of spreading and contaminating others. We will continue to do this across all aspects of the club… the Stoop and our training facilities at Surrey Sports Park have been closed for the last few days for a deep clean and visitors/non-core staff are being kept to a minimum.
“These are unprecedented and difficult times for all of us, on both personal and professional levels. However, the most important thing for everyone is to stay safe. Challenges like this global pandemic are unusual and stretch us all – I could not be prouder of the hard work everyone at the club is doing.”
?? Who won scissor, paper, stone? Who bent a car window after locking their keys in?
— Harlequins ? (@Harlequins) March 18, 2020
Updates on what the squad are up to are in short supply, the club restricting itself to a Monday night statement in light of Premiership Rugby’s announcement that the season was suspended. “These are challenging times in all walks of life and, as a central part of the local community, Leicester Tigers believe the welfare of supporters, players and staff is paramount,” it read.
Instead, the main news coming out of Welford Road has been to do with non-player matters, namely that the club was taken off the market after being put up for sale last June and how construction in connection with a proposed hotel development at the stadium will commence with car park works from next Monday.
Having become debt-free on the back of last year’s revenue from the Premiership’s deal with CVC Capital Partners, Tigers officials had hoped the club could be sold for upwards of £60million. However, that failed to happen.
“Despite a high level of interest from potential new investors, the board has concluded that it is unlikely an offer for the company will materialise from an investor who shares the club’s vision of the future and at a value attractive to shareholders,” read a statement. Executive chairman Peter Tom added: “While we were pleased with the level of interest in the club, none of the prospective new investors were judged to fulfil our criteria.”
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No sign of ???? ??? ?????? at Welford Road, during this postponement period… pic.twitter.com/YFaBS9bQE0
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 18, 2020
A club statement on Monday night stated that the exiles would be “following government guidelines and staff will be working away from the Hazelwood training facility”. Irish had been planning their annual bumper St Patrick’s Day party fixture around the now postponed March 28 visit of Northampton to Reading. With that now scratched, club skipper Blair Cowan issued a video message.
“Just want to say Happy St Paddy’s Day to all our supporters,” he said. “Obviously, we are all going through a tough time at the moment. We are all disappointed with the news of the league being postponed, but the main priority is to keep everyone safe and healthy. For the time being, let’s all listen to the advice of professionals and follow their guidance.”
All dozen clubs cancelled their usual weekly media sessions, but Saints didn’t close the line of communication completely as CEO Mark Darbon held a conference call on Tuesday evening with media at which he revealed that one unnamed player and one rugby staff member were currently self-isolating, plus three other people across the club’s non-rugby performance areas.
Northampton stood down their playing group on Tuesday, with squad members all given individual training plans to work on while away from the club. Darbon added: “They have been unloading kit from the gym to take with them. Our facility will be closed for the next three weeks. There is a necessity to keep players ticking over, and that is what we will do. During that period we are preventing players from travelling overseas.”
The CEO suggested there was a collective desire among clubs to for the disrupted season to reach an appropriate conclusion. “Our strong preference is to get things finished this year and move on to the next one (season) without damaging that one too.
“We have made the right decision so far. Clubs are supportive of the postponement… we have a good dialogue. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t think there were a lot of questions. We certainly have some big questions ahead.”
? Who is/was your favourite Saints player from these countries?
Copy + Paste your answers below ? pic.twitter.com/Pb1O2ySoMp
— Northampton Saints ? (@SaintsRugby) March 18, 2020
Sharks are usually one of the weekly headline grabbers, given the flow of lively stories from Steve Diamond and co, but the grapevine has gone quiet in the wake of Monday’s season suspension other than confirmation from Jersey Reds that retiring hooker Rob Webber is linking up with them as forwards coach next season.
A statement on the club website had more to do with fans concerned about postponed match ticket details than an indication as what the squad are up to during the current lay-off. In terms of balancing the books, it appeared business as usual as Sharks announced on Wednesday afternoon that Samurai Sports had been chosen as their official matchday, training and leisurewear kit provider for the next three years.
??| @samurai_sports has been chosen as our official matchday, training & leisurewear kit provider!
They will be our partner for another 3 years, taking the partnership up until the end of the 2022/23 season.
— Sale Sharks? (@SaleSharksRugby) March 18, 2020
The defending champions had experienced the season from hell prior to last Monday’s stoppage, their automatic relegation to the Championship next season confirmed in January following repeated salary cap breaches. They were due to host Harlequins at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium before the end of March, but that match is now on ice along with their much-anticipated European Cup trip to Dublin to face Leinster.
In a statement, the Londoners said: “As a club we put the well-being of our people first. We are awaiting guidelines from the relevant authorities and are preparing contingency plans for our players, staff and community departments to work remotely in the event of disruption to our normal day-to-day schedules.
“At the very heart of Saracens’ ethos is the concept of family, unity and togetherness. With that in mind, we would urge everyone to take every necessary precaution as we collectively aim to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”
With the five-week postponement and social distancing, we need to switch up our content! ?
Whether it’s tries of old, quizzes, blasts from the past… we want to know what you’d like to see! #TogetherSaracens ???
Comment below ??? pic.twitter.com/jb5fa1IB5S
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) March 18, 2020
The Coventry-based outfit have been one of the busier clubs if their social media output is anything to judge. In a statement on their website, Wasps said: “Community is so important to our club and the safety of our fans, players and staff is at the forefront of our minds. However, in light of recent advice, we have put a temporary stop on all player appearances and community activities will be restricted.”
That restriction hasn’t stopped them from helping out, though, as players such as Dan Robson, Jack Willis and Brad Shields posted video messages on Twitter explaining how they had made phone calls to Wasps fans going through tough times.
The club also posted about how spare produce such as food packs from their training ground had been put to good use by being distributed throughout the area via their community team.
? So good to speak to one of our fans Brian just now! He’s stuck at home alone and can’t see his grandchildren but thankfully he’s doing fine!
Please #MakeThatCall to someone important!
Alan Solomons took to social media on Wednesday to update Warriors fans on what is going on with the club. “The coronavirus pandemic poses a threat to public health that has not been experienced in recent times and it is only sensible that all steps are taken to prevent its spread,” wrote the director of rugby.
“When lives and livelihoods are under threat it would be wrong to continue playing rugby and continue playing sport and exposing our supporters, players and staff to unnecessary risk. In the short term the players, coaching and support staff have been given a short rest period away from the club.
“All players have been given individual training programmes before resuming full training ahead of the hoped-for return to action against Bristol Bears next month.”
? A message from Solly ??
— Worcester Warriors (@WorcsWarriors) March 18, 2020
WATCH: Ed Jackson features in this episode of the RugbyPass Exceptional Stories series
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