English rugby turned to the government for a cash bailout after being forced back behind closed doors last night.
Hours before 1,000 fans were due to watch Bath's stunning come-from-behind win over Gloucester in the next step towards crowds returning to the sport, the plug was pulled by Boris Johnson.
With spectators now set to be shut out for SIX months, Premiership chief Darren Childs spoke of "irreparable damage" and Rugby Football Union boss Bill Sweeney admitted there would be “severe consequences” across all levels of the sport.
Sweeney said: “With no fans this autumn we will see a £122m reduction in revenue resulting in a loss of £46m.
“And with no fans for the Guinness Six Nations we will see a £138m reduction in revenue with a loss of £60m.”
Premiership and Championship clubs, he added, faced “significant financial hardship” and community clubs, set to lose £86m in revenue this season, were now “under threat”.
These are horrific numbers and Sweeney made no attempt to sugar coat the magnitude of the crisis.
“From the outset we have been clear that an autumn without crowds would leave us with little choice but to approach government for financial help,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are now in that position.
“Without support we are in danger of clubs at the heart of communities across England, as well as players and volunteers, disappearing forever.”
At an empty Rec it was Bath’s play-off hopes that were in danger of being killed off when former club favourite Matt Banahan put Gloucester 20-3 ahead on the hour.
The big full-back rounded off a dazzling move, initiated by Jake Polledri, to add to Chris Harris’ equally smart first half opener.
But Bath refused to give up on their season and, in front of Lions coach Warren Gatland and England counterpart Eddie Jones, produced an astonishing recovery to claim maximum points.
Tom Dunn did his hopes of a Test call-up no harm by sparking the revival with two quick fire tries, before Lewis Boyce came off the bench to add a third.
With two minutes left scrum-half Ben Spencer raced away to bag the bonus point and send Bath second behind Exeter with one game to play, at Saracens on Sunday week.
It was just a crying shame there were no fans to celebrate it.
“This was like the Golden Ticket,” said Bath chief executive Tarquin McDonald. “We are gutted for those supporters.”
BATH – Tries: Dunn 2, Boyce, Spencer. Cons: Priestland 4. Pen: Priestland.
GLOUCESTER – Tries: Harris, Banahan. Cons: Twelvetrees 2. Pens: Twelvetrees 2.
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