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'We could end up with fewer professionals'

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TOUGH TIMES: Bernard Jackman believes Covid-19 will have a drastic impact on rugby. Photo: Frank McGrath

TOUGH TIMES: Bernard Jackman believes Covid-19 will have a drastic impact on rugby. Photo: Frank McGrath

TOUGH TIMES: Bernard Jackman believes Covid-19 will have a drastic impact on rugby. Photo: Frank McGrath

Bernard Jackman looks at the current cash crisis engulfing rugby and knows what's going through the minds of those running the clubs and provinces.

When he was Grenoble coach, he was forced to cut his budget and implement pay cuts due to the death of benefactor Serge Kampf. Not every player was willing to play ball and their resistance led to tension that could only be relieved when he sold them on.

Right now, clubs across Europe are facing similar problems but there are no cash-rich sides ready and willing to bail anyone out. Everyone is in the same boat.

So, the ex-Leinster and Ireland hooker believes only a collective effort can limit the damage done by the current stoppage as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's going to have a drastic impact on the game," he said.

"It just shows you how vulnerable professional rugby is and, looking at some of the Premiership stuff, how quickly they had to go into pay cuts ... when you think those clubs got a big financial windfall last year with the private equity money, it just shows you how close to the wind they're all sailing.

"You look at the Australian Rugby Union as well, the level of debt they're in, the USA announced they're going to file for bankruptcy to stay alive. The virus could change the landscape of professional rugby and whether that leads to a world season or to certain clubs going out of business or a restructured fixture list for Super Rugby etc, with a lot of the travel taken out ... it's going to be far-ranging. I don't think anyone has clarity on where it's going to lead to.

"But I think from a coaching and a player point of view, there is going to be a readjustment of salaries, for sure. I think you'll end up back to levels of five or six years ago pretty quickly and maybe fewer professionals.

"I'd hate to be a coach or a player out of contract at the moment, it must be an incredibly difficult time.

"We saw private equity money trying to take over the Six Nations, pay-for-view, all that stuff ... it's a game probably that we don't have as much money in as we think we do and there's quite a bit of pressure on World Rugby to try and bail out some of the federations and unions.

"How much they have to do is going to be interesting as well."

The lack of gate and broadcasting revenue is the first wave of the hit, but Jackman is predicting the pain will last beyond the shutdown.

"We've seen clubs look for pay deferrals and cuts and I think players by and large will be open to that," he said.

"But that's during the pandemic. You'd have to imagine what will happen is that the sponsorship market next year will be much weaker than it is now, so even some of the deals that the clubs have done with sponsors for the next two or three years, they're going to be renegotiated or maybe a company will go back on them.

"So that's going to have an effect on revenue. The hardest thing to reduce is your playing budget, to be honest, because as I said it's not a movable feast, you're locked in for one or two years, three years, with most player contracts, and realistically in the spring it's nearly too late to drastically change that for the following season. All your high-profile, expensive, marquee players are generally tied down.

"Obviously, you can always release some of your players who are lower cost and replace them with academy, but effectively, in terms of the overall budget, seven or eight players are costing as much as a marquee one.

"So, for a lot of directors of rugby there will be nothing built in, there'll be no buffer for something like this to happen.

"What you do is you'll sit down with your CEO, your CFO in October-November and they give you what you have for the following year. Then you go and spend that.

"It's going to be very hard for directors of rugby to drastically reduce their playing budget unless they go nuclear."