Picture: 123RF/Wavebreak Media Ltd
Picture: 123RF/Wavebreak Media Ltd

The full financial effect Covid-19 will have on the local rugby economy is not yet known but the signs from elsewhere are far from rosy.

Players in England are gearing for pay cuts as most Premiership teams grow increasingly desperate to slash costs while the game languishes in limbo.

Harlequins got the ball rolling with a proposed 25% pay cut‚ and other clubs soon followed suit. The cuts will only be legally binding if the players agree to them.

In New Zealand, conversations about salary alterations are at an advanced stage and already the country’s centrally contracted coaches‚ including All Blacks coach Ian Foster‚ have taken a pay cut.

Across the ditch‚ Rugby Australia have announced that 75% of their work force should not bother pitching up for the next three months. There is also the prospect of one Aussie Super Rugby franchise getting the chop next season.

In SA, talks are taking place behind closed doors but players will probably be called in for deeply unpalatable discussions.

The Lions’ majority shareholder and chair‚ Altmann Allers‚ who told this writer that he runs the organisation like a business‚ said all options have to be considered.

“Tough decisions will have to be taken to ensure that we protect the business and‚ in fact‚ the industry‚” warned Allers.

He said while they will attempt to keep jobs‚ decisions will have to be made that do not suit everyone.

Dimly lit path

“We will be irresponsible if we don’t look at all the options. It won’t just be the players — we are talking coaches‚ support staff‚ the bloke who mows the grass.”

The Lions have been down this dimly lit path before.

When they split from former equity partner Guma Tac‚ the franchise went through a cut-to-the-bone restructuring.

Their woes were worsened by their exclusion from Super Rugby, and their main sponsor MTN also quit.

Rudolf Straeuli was installed as the new CEO and the turnaround strategy slowly took shape. Within three years the Lions played the first of three consecutive Super Rugby finals.

Straeuli is endowed with shoulders to carry a crisis. The Lions turnaround barely compared with what he went through at Bedford, England, in the late 1990s, and the looming crisis will seem like déjà vu for the former Bok backrower.

He became player-coach at then recently promoted Bedford, but their elevation to the Premiership coincided with empty promises and resultant empty coffers.

It was up to Straeuli and not the team’s owner‚ boxing promoter Frank Warren‚ to share the bad news with the players.

Some senior players had already quit but Straeuli became the glue that held together a club that averaged just more than 3,000 spectators a game. He said later it became a question of trust, and the players‚ who were not being paid‚ eventually voted to continue playing come what may.

As a Rugby World Cup winner and coach‚ it fell to Straeuli to be the calming influence in a Bedford team that was in a relegation battle with West Hartlepool.

The players’ loyalty paid off as Bedford survived the chop‚ partly also because Richmond and London Scottish went into administration and merged into London Irish who did not compete in the Premiership the next season.

This time the circumstances are slightly different, but empathy and trust are commodities Straeuli and the players will have to display again in the next months.

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