Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill accepts that the multi-national, cross-border aspect of the Guinness Pro14 adds an extra “complication” to the vexed question of when, or if, professional rugby in these parts gets back to any kind of normality.
The Pro14, which involves Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors as well as teams from Wales, Ireland, Italy and South Africa, is still theoretically in a temporary shutdown due to the coronavirus crisis, although the June final in Cardiff has been cancelled and all indications are that sport, even behind closed doors, is off the agenda for a long time even when lockdown is eased.
“It is going to be hard in the very short term,” said the coach, whose side were sitting pretty at the top of Conference B when the season was brought a halt as the scale of Covid-19 pandemic became increasingly clear.
“You look at South Africa and Italy and there will be issues coming and going there. Even in the UK, it is going to be difficult to go and visit teams in other countries.”
The UK has been hit hard by the virus, Italy even harder and concerns remain about a flare-up in South Africa, from where the Cheetahs and Southern Kings joined the league a couple of seasons ago.
The already-struggling Super Rugby tournament, which involves provinces and franchises from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, is believed to be in grave danger of folding.
“It does add a complication,” continued Cockerill. “But I’m sure the Pro14 are looking at every which way to get some sort of conclusion to this season.
“We all want that to happen. Everyone is desperately missing sport and everyone wants to go back to work to keep their jobs safe. I think it is more complicated in the Pro 14 probably than in England and France.”
There has been talk, rubbished by Pro14 sources, that, if at all possible, there could be a straight shoot-out between the current conference leaders Edinburgh and Leinster at some point to decide a champion for the season, but the former England hooker and Leicester coach seemed uneasy with that one.
“We are fortunate that we sit in the position we do, but there are still eight rounds of rugby to go with some very good teams, like Munster and Scarlets, in our conference and Ulster in the other one.
“They would feel pretty aggrieved,” added Cockerill. “Whatever the outcome of the process of getting a resolution to the season is not going to be ideal.
“Personally, if you were going to go down that route, it would probably be better to have quarters, semis and finals with the top three from each conference [as things stood at suspension].
“But we are all guessing when we will be allowed to have public gatherings or play behind closed doors or anything else. I’m sure there will be, if possible, the fittest and best way to get this up and running.
“We want to be up and running because we want the game to remain viable and we want to have a spectacle that people want to come and watch. From a Scottish point of view, we want to keep the game alive and make sure we get back on our feet as soon as we can. I don’t think it’s unique to rugby. Clearly, it’s shown that the game is fragile, and if we don’t play games and we don’t have any spectators… It’s not unique to rugby, is it? Look at football or any other sport or any other business. If you don’t have a product and you’re not selling it, you don’t make money – and, for obvious reasons, that causes problems.”
Cockerill appreciates there are much bigger priorities.
“The health of everybody is far more important and we’ll go with the government guidelines around all of that, for obvious reasons,” he said.
This would normally be a busy period of contract negotiations and announcements but things are temporarily on hold.
“I am not in a place to discuss that just now but, in the next week or so, we will have a list of guys who will be leaving and guys that will be arriving but there are still things to be worked out at this point.”
As well as former national captain John Barclay, Kiwi stand-off Simon Hickey, who is the only current member of the squad not locked down in Scotland due to a family illness back home and Scotland centre Matt Scott whose contract is up in the summer, are likely to be released.
Not a character you would imagine best suited to being cooped up, Cockerill gave an insight to his experience of the past surreal month we have all experienced.
“I have taken the bicycle out of the shed and been doing miles on the bike,” he said. “Doing a little bit of work and preparing for if we come back and pre-season, too, if we don’t end up doing any until August or September or whenever. The kids are educating themselves at home because I am no help at all and I’m watching rugby and putting stuff together for when we get back in. Keeping fit and getting fresh air when I can.”
Cockerill accepts that, if rugby re-emerges later in the year, it will be the international game and, specifically, the truncated Six Nations that takes priority.
“At this point, inevitably, the international game across all countries is going to take precedence over the club game because it is the thing that generates most money,” he said.
“For the the world game and every union it will create a profile and a product that TV companies want to broadcast and people want to come and see.”
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