New Zealand Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol has warned that some rugby players may be forced to get other jobs as the coronavirus pandemic continues to force a shutdown of professional sport around the world.
With NZ Rugby fighting for survival – facing millions in losses and significant wage cuts – rugby players in New Zealand have been left with the stark reality that the professional game in this country may never be the same.
Nichol believes some players could be forced to step away from the game and return to a more semi-professional model.
"We've looked at the worst case scenario for New Zealand Rugby," Nichol said in an interview with Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking. "What that means is north of $100 million loss of revenue. We share that revenue at 36 per cent. The players are going to have to step up.
"We're working on a strategy at the moment where we're going to work out what we're going to do to pull back should we need to and when we need to and some of those levers need to be pulled sooner rather than later."
NZ Rugby has already been forced into a sweeping 20 per cent cut in staff salaries – and the impact will soon hit the players. The governing body is currently in discussions with all parties about pay cuts for players.
Nichol says the current crisis shines a light on what has already been a precarious environment for professional rugby players in New Zealand.
"A lot of people don't realise that for over a decade now if you're not a Super Rugby player – if you're a provincial Mitre 10 Cup or a high performance academy environment within New Zealand – you have to work and study. And you can only train outside of the hours of 9-5.
"All of our athletes that are currently pushing for Super are currently well supported and engaged in study or work outside of rugby. And that's the requirement of the environment.
"We've got 420 professional rugby players overseas. We've got more full-time professional players playing overseas than we have here.
"Something like this just reinforces to all of us the fickle nature of professional sport. Whether it's an injury, a non-selection or you don't pick up a contract, or this thing called Covid-19 that we're all learning about, it's just part of the package."
Nichol says the Players' Association has encouraged rugby players to expand their interests and career opportunities even before the current financial strain caused by the pandemic.
"It's something we've pushed for 20 years. We've always said these athletes who come into a professional environment is about being more than just an athlete. You're not an athlete. Sport's just what you do, it's not who you are.
"We've always been big believers that the better athletes are the ones who have expanded themselves, understand who they are about; they've got other interests outside of sport so that they can fall back on them at tough times.
"To be honest, if there's something to come out of this it's that aspiring young professional rugby players have to work hard to become professional rugby players but also have to have another interest outside of it, which is what we push now, then that's not a bad thing."
However, Nichol assures that the lucky few who will still be able to continue being full professionals in New Zealand will be ready once rugby does return to stadiums and screens.
"The strategy we've put together to handle this year, the reality is, we're going to get an opportunity [to play]. We're looking for that opportunity to get back on the field.
"We need the players ready to go for that. And that's the biggest thing they can do for the game right now. Make no bones about it, our top professional players will still be focused on being the best players they can be because they're going to have to be."