WOODWARD: Premiership Rugby bosses are making it up on the hoof

Premiership Rugby bosses are making it up on the hoof and there is a lack of clear-cut communication… who on earth is running the show?

  • People assumed Sale’s 19 positive coronavirus tests would lead to self-isolation 
  • Not just of those who have the illness, but also those they came into contact with
  • The sheer number means it is a mass outbreak so the health risks remain vast 
  • There has been a disappointing lack of communication from Premiership Rugby
  • Times are tough and it is not easy but they need to be up front and honest  

These are strange and challenging times and we must cut a bit of slack to sports bodies trying to keep the show on the road, but this Sale situation is perplexing and doesn’t put rugby in a good light.

Back when we came out of lockdown, it seemed that if a club suffered a significant outbreak, those testing positive would have to be isolated along with those they had come into contact with.

It was clear that a game would unfortunately have to be forfeited and the opposition awarded a 20-0 bonus-point victory.

Sale Sharks will be without Faf de Klerk having cobbled together a team to face Worcester

Sale director Steve Diamond (left) is trying to steer his side into a Premiership play-off spot

This disruption happened in France, and one European Challenge Cup quarter-final was lost when Castres — who had just one player test positive — withdrew from their game in Leicester. Then Sale recorded 19 positives, so we assumed that anybody who had come into contact with them must also self-isolate.

When Sale coach Steve Diamond was interviewed on Sunday, it was claimed Sale could be the victims of an administrative error in that they were given a clean bill after one set of weekly tests, only to be contacted belatedly the following day to say there had been a mistake and that one of their squad was in fact positive.

That is unfortunate and not, it would seem, down to Sale. But once those 19 positives were confirmed, everything surely changed. That is a mass outbreak and of course nobody knows how many others they came into contact with have been affected.

There was no question of the game against Worcester taking place two days later, and that at once undermined the whole concept of Super Sunday, with all the clubs kicking off together so that none could take advantage of a late kick-off and know exactly what was required.

By hook or by crook, Sale insist they can get a competitive XV on the pitch. And with quite a few key players ‘OK’ they have announced a decent line-up, even if they are relying on a bench packed with academy players.

What I am struggling to get my head round is how the health risks of such a game are suddenly diminished. Sale had 19 positives — 16 players and three staff — in a tight-knit squad less than a week ago. Anybody would be nervous going to play that team in Manchester which currently has the highest infection rate in the UK.

There has been a lack of clear direction from Premiership Rugby and it reflects poorly

What really disappoints me is the lack of clear-cut communication from Premiership Rugby and the perception that yet again they are making it up on the hoof. Who is in charge and why don’t we hear his or her voice on an almost daily basis. Who is running the show?

There are echoes of the Saracens salary cap issue. At the time it was quite clear that under the Premiership’s regulations they were not empowered to relegate Sarries as such, just dock them a whopping 35 points along with a massive fine.

It seemed highly irregular that when Premiership Rugby suddenly realised that even a 35-point buffer wasn’t going to save Leicester, they made up a new regulation to impose a further points penalty on Saracens. That is not how well-regulated sporting bodies should be acting.

There are echoes of the way Premiership Rugby handled the Saracens salary cap scandal

There is the whiff of that again now. No coherent explanation was — or has been — offered as to why Premiership Rugby have gone back on their thinking of three months ago. No loud authoritative voice telling the game what the issues are and how Premiership Rugby intend to move forward. I can’t believe that such a contingency was envisaged a while back when they started to plot their way through the return to action.

The bitterest irony of all is that innocent by-standers Northampton — who played Sale after Sale were informed that they had a positive test after all, but before 19 were confirmed — had to forfeit their game against Gloucester because they were ‘possibly’ contaminated.

Even there the waters are muddied because Premiership Rugby seemed to be also arguing that Northampton, with big injury problems in the front row, couldn’t find loan players of sufficient quality to fulfil the fixture while the club insisted they could.

The Premiership need to do better for the good of the game, players, staff and fans

The sport needs to up its game when it comes to communicating. The Premiership and the clubs aren’t talking to each other properly — or they aren’t listening to each other. And the Premiership is not engaging properly with the public at large via the media. Don’t leave us in the dark. We know these are tough times. It’s not easy, but be open and up front.

Often, poor and imprecise communication to the media reflects poor communication internally. When you get it right internally, informing the media and public is easy. At this time, with so much on the line, Premiership rugby must be more precise than ever.

Not just to keep the game alive but to give confidence to players, staff and fans.




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