Ulster have taken advantage of their unique position within Irish rugby, placing around 70 per cent of its staff of 183 – including players – on the UK government’s job retention scheme. The temporary scheme, which covers 80 per cent of a person’s usual monthly wage up to £2,500 a month, is a benefit payment not available to employees at the other Irish provinces south of the border who come under the Republic of Ireland jurisdiction.

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Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie said: “130 are currently in furlough and that is from the beginning of April. We will review again as we go through the next few weeks and we will see what comes at the beginning of May.”

The IRFU announced on March 20 it had reached an agreement with the Rugby Players Ireland on a series of pay deferrals. “These deferrals, based on an equitable sliding scale which ranges from 10 per cent to 50 per cent, will be effective from April and beyond if required,” read a statement at the time.

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With Ulster having since adopted the UK emergency relief furlough scheme, they are topping up wages to the agreed deferred level of salary with the IRFU. “We have to protect the business so that when we come out of this, we are at least as strong as when we went in,” continued Petrie. 

“Like many others, we have sought to take advantage of the relevant government schemes at a time when we still have many of our costs but we don’t have anywhere near our level of revenues coming into the organisation with matches not being played.

“As well as VAT holidays and rates reliefs, we also moved quickly to defer percentages of salaries right across the organisation in line with the IRFU and the players were included in that. The issue is that deferral was resolved positively very quickly as all the players were understanding of why we were doing it. We had to look at what we could do as an organisation to ride out the current period.”

There is a worry in Irish rugby circles that the current economic pain can inlet be sustained for a shorty period of time. Niall Woods, the owner of the Navy Blue Sports agency that represents upwards of 40 current professional players (including Ulster’s Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore) recently told RugbyPass: “You have players asking, ‘what is my salary going to be next season?’ You can’t give a definitive answer. 

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“Legally and contractually the fees are agreed, the salary is agreed, but depending on how long the no sport goes on for, I can’t give an answer on that. Some guys are more concerned than others. Others are getting on with it. It varies from player to player, what they make of it as an individual. But there is a genuine concern just in general.”

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