Damian Hopley has insisted players in England aren’t at loggerheads with their Gallagher Premiership clubs over the 25 per cent salary cuts implemented in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Rugby Players’ Association chief insisted it was in no-one’s best interests to cause rancour amid a crisis that will see a much-delayed finish to a season originally due to conclude with a showpiece Twickenham final on June 24. 

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Speaking to Jim Hamilton and Andy Goode on the latest edition of The Rugby Pod, the long-serving Hopley admitted the crisis that has brought rugby in England and around the world to a standstill initially caught his members on the hop. However, he insisted there is now unity among players who have accepted the reasons for the salary cuts, not the mutiny of potential strike action which was mentioned in some recent media reports. 

“Players are accepting of cuts, it’s really important to reinforce that,” said Hopley. “It’s not deferment, it’s not as happened in other sports, this is actually ‘we recognise there is no money coming in’. The players by and large are accepting of the cuts. 

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RPA chief Damian Hopley talks to Big Jim and Goodey on The Rugby Pod

“It’s not particularly pleasant but we all realise that everyone has to play their part… the bottom line is that when rugby is back on, everyone has got to start working together again and the last thing anyone wants to do now is burn bridges and get into all sorts of entrenched positions and fights because that is not going to serve anyone any purpose. 

“So despite some media reports about revolutions and players being up in arms, of course there is distress around this very remarkable situation we are in but to say it is about revolution and turning us against clubs is simply not true.”

It was March 19, when Hopley chaired a meeting attended by player representatives from all the Premiership clubs, that the 25 per cent pay cut which has swept through the sport first emerged as it became known that Gloucester had already taken the decision to reduce payments. That revelation left the RPA chasing its tail, but there is now acceptance of the bigger picture which the need for the clubs in England to survive and not go to the wall.

“The clubs took the decision to make the pay cut so we have sort of been playing catch up ever since,” explained Hopley. “No one wants to see any clubs go bust. We all recognise the fantastic contribution owners have made and we have all benefited from it over the years in English club rugby, so the thought of the clubs going bust of the back of this is catastrophic for the sport.

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“The advice we have given to players was just to buy a bit more time because coronavirus isn’t going away, this situation is not going away. Some people have taken this as a personal slight against them by the players, which it is absolutely not.

“It’s just saying, ‘Look, guys, let’s reserve our right to buy some time, let’s have some positive dialogue’. We are then introduced to that issue of furloughing which no one knew about until about a week later, so we were all trying to get up to speed on what that means for the clubs.

“Again, anything that brings money into the club environment when there is no discernible income has to be a good thing in terms of survival. A lot of it has just been about education, just trying to make sure the players are fully up to speed in the situation and just trying to create a positive dialogue.”

Further calls to Premiership Rugby and title sponsors Gallagher are now on Hopley’s diary for later this week, following on from Premiership Rugby’s statement on Wednesday that it will look to complete the current season but only when it is safe to do so.

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“The word unprecedented has been bandied about and it’s fair to say we [RPA] have been flat out the last few weeks. We all recognise this is just the craziest time. What we have been trying to do is to make sense of all the issues around pay cuts, furloughing, all the different categories of players that are involved in the current economic freefall that is going on globally. 

“There has been quite a bit of misinformation in terms of the media so we have been trying to bring the players up to speed on the rights, what the issues are, how we can help them and indeed get the better informed as to the current environment we are all suffering from across sport and in every single business in the world.

“When you’re sitting on phone calls and talking to players about a sizeable chunk of income – in some cases this is more than 25 per cent – it’s a pretty grim conversation to be having. But some players have taken what I would call mature view and said if it means my club being saved and I have got a job at the end of the year then I’m actually willing to do that.

“That has been the really positive thing despite the initial shock. In terms of where are now from the initial shock, we have made some good progress but it really is a case of trying to understand when this will change and when we can get back to competitive rugby again. The players are champing at the bit to be plying their trade and playing rugby.

“The biggest issue now is when will the league return, when we will return to playing happen? No one can crystal ball that, no one can understand what will that looks like, when will players go back to full pay, all these things… there are big concerns. 

“If we can’t conclude this season there are some massive financial holes that come with that. The interesting thing here is that it’s such a fast-moving environment and every day something new is being thrown up. The concern is that if this season doesn’t complete and money is called back from broadcast, sponsorship etc, that will have a catastrophic impact.

“That is one of the key messages… you try and be as positive as possible in our sport but you have got to paint the real picture. In talking to a number of club chief executive and owners who are pretty emotional in the current environment, there is a very real concern that some clubs might mot make it and that would be a disaster. 

“That is the challenge now in the absence of any concrete return to play, return to training, return to full pay, return to turnstiles, it’s just quite hard at the moment to actually see where this will all end up. If nothing else we are all optimistic to try and work through this. We talk a lot about the collective, after what was a tricky start in all of this. We are trying to make amends and move forward as an entire game.”

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