Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth has urged fellow Gallagher Premiership professionals to enthusiastically embrace the challenge of finishing the current season – even if it means playing three games a week. With the Top 14 season terminated due to the coronavirus pandemic and speculation emerging that the Guinness PRO14 might go the same way next week when officials from the five countries meet virtually to discuss the indefinite suspension, the English top-flight is shaping up to be the only elite European league to reach a conclusion on the field of play.
Nine rounds of regular season matches – along with the playoffs – remain to be played in England and while Saracens are already automatically relegated to the Championship due to repeated salary cap breaches, Wigglesworth wants the club to impressively finish out the season.
“There are a lot of us in limbo at the moment and it would be nice to get things sorted,” he told RugbyPass. “Players have to recognise the extenuating circumstances and get on with playing games to make sure the clubs exist and thrive. Players have to be looked after but this situation is so much bigger than a few players being tired and picking up niggles.
“Clubs are very aware of what is happening and the days of flogging a player have gone to just get a short term result. We have to be really adaptable and if you are fit to play two or three games a week you do it. Whenever it is safe we have to get playing for the clubs and the players are helping by taking pay cuts. Now it’s about playing the games when and if we can.”
Set to turn 37 next month, Wigglesworth has played a record 286 Premiership games for Sale and his current club Saracens, winning six league titles and three Heineken Cups, but he will soon be out of contract. While an extension at Saracens would put his hopes of becoming the first player to appear in 300 Premiership games on hold, he wants to see out the current season on the pitch and then see what happens for the future.
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“We are going to have to want to make the game bigger and more exciting, not think about the negative side of things. We have a brilliant game. As it stands I’m keen to play on but we haven’t had any information about how the season looks like. There is no point me asking until the club knows what is going on and when that happens it will filter down and the players will have to get sorted. Come the end of June you can technically sign anywhere and we need to complete the Premiership.
“Everything stopped with the virus and at the moment I’m out of contract and we are all waiting for things to start again. I’m mad keen to play on and feel as good as I have done and was happy with what I was doing on the pitch before this happened. If the Sarries thing had been different it would have been me staying there. Hopefully, something can be sorted when we all get going. If not, then I will wait to see what happens with other places.”
Wigglesworth, who built a gym in his home two years ago, is following a personal fitness programme set out by his club’s strength and conditioning coaches who helpfully identified hills to be climbed near player’s home. Government advice permitting, all Premiership clubs are aiming to spend June getting their squads ready for the season to restart in July with the Premiership final in August.
“I understand the different training schedules that have been done and having spoken to the lads at Sarries, they have done a great job of sourcing gym equipment and are working exceptionally hard but there is a difference between running and playing. Getting ready in a month is possible and while it won’t be the same as a normal pre-season, getting back into the rugby and contact will be looked after by the strength and conditioning experts. I don’t see it being a problem.”
With players leaving Saracens to take up contracts with rival Premiership clubs on July 1, there is the possibility of some key inside information being utilised by other teams if the 2019/20 season is restarted. “It will bring a bit of interest to things with people playing for other teams mid-season, knowing the calls and it will add something to the competition,” reckoned Wigglesworth.
“I finished my level three coaching course but what I don’t have is the certificate and the final stuff done. It has been good and I had a brilliant introduction to coaching with Harrow and the last two years with Ealing Trailfinders. I have given up a lot of my free time to do it.
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“I feel ready to kick on and become a better coach but that is hopefully not for a couple of years when the playing career is over. Sarries have a brilliant culture of wanting players to do things outside the game. I want to coach and have spent the last five years working hard on that, putting pressure on the family by not having as many days off. But everyone who has left the game was big on learning and trying to improve.
“I have not asked about coaching at Sarries because I want to play on, but if you look at the coaching staff it is pretty full. The place is very close to my heart and you would never say never, but what I’m asking for at the moment is a playing role.”
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