Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter have reiterated their ambition to finish the indefinitely suspended 2019/20 season. The call came from Chiefs CEO Tony Rowe, who said there was still a ‘real desire’ to complete the campaign in which they are currently five points clear at the top of the table.
Exeter have not played a Premiership fixture since beating Bath 57-20 at Sandy Park back on March 7, but multi-millionaire owner Rowe is positive that a return to competitive action may not be that far away.
Rowe’s optimism comes after an announcement earlier this week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Public Health England (PHE), the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and UK Sport. The bodies agreed elite combat and team sport would have permission to resume full-contact training for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak saw all forms of rugby suspended on March 16.
Rowe, 71, revealed that the pandemic has left him down-at-heel in recent weeks. “I don’t mind saying, last week I was pretty depressed as I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. At that time, we weren’t sure when we could get back to training and what the future held. This announcement this week has changed things and now I’m more confident that we will return to playing again soon.”
“As a club and as a sport, we have to see this as a positive. Of course, we will adhere to the advice of the Government and the various medical professionals, but as a club we have a real desire to finish this season. It’s the same for Premiership Rugby, they too want to finish this season and get clubs back playing again.”
The released white paper stated that organised close-contact training, such as tackling, contact from inside two-metres and certain equipment to be shared.
At present, all Premiership Rugby clubs have agreed that no training will take place until early June. However, once that deadline is reached it is feasible that clubs could return to training and the process of restarting top-flight fixtures can take place.
The Premiership was further buoyed by the news that BT Sport intended to pay the final round of £15million payments to the clubs in a gesture that will ease the financial burden of several under-pressure businesses.
Exeter celebrated the ten-year anniversary of their promotion to the Premiership earlier this week, but Rowe conceded it has been an immensely stressful period for millions of people and reiterated that the hard work has continued behind the scenes at Sandy Park to ensure the 2016/17 Premiership champions are able to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
“Another incentive was cash… when you’re on 25 grand in the Championship, that [Rob Baxter's half-time bonus] becomes a big, big deal”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 26, 2020
“In 22 years of running the club, this year will be the first time that we have lost money,” explained Rowe. “There are obvious reasons for this, of course, but we have had to work incredibly hard to help preserve the business as best we can.
“Because of the virus there will be a big fat hole in the accounts and that means we will have to find ways of addressing that moving forward. It’s not easy, particularly when you have no income coming in, but I’m confident that we have found a way to overcome the challenge currently.
“Looking at what is spelt out in this new government paper, plus the way all of us have helped to lower infection rates and do what we have done over these past few weeks, we are starting to see things change and move in the right direction.
“Having spoken with Rob (Baxter) we are both very encouraged by the announcement this week and we feel there is a very good chance that we can get back to some kind of normality in the not too distant future.”
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