The rugby world continues to close its borders as mass cancellations and pay cuts sweep Europe.

All rugby in Ireland, Wales and Scotland was today called off for the rest of the season, which runs through to July, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

English rugby hangs by a thread after the Rugby Football Union cancelled the rest of its season for all leagues, other than the top flight professional division, while several clubs have confirmed 25 per cent wage cuts for players and staff.

Welsh rugby soon followed suit, calling off their entire season after it was deemed "irresponsible" to continue. Similar wage cut discussions are ongoing to try save their rugby regions.

The Hurricanes are confident of a replacement Super Rugby competition made up of kiwi teams only set to be announced in the next few days.

With rugby unlikely to be permitted there until at least July, Ireland announced pay-deferral measures from next month for playing, coaching and administration staff on a "sliding scale" from 10 to 50 per cent to secure the future of its professional game.

Unlike clubs in England, Ireland plan to make up the shortfall to staff when play resumes.

IRFU chief executive Philp Browne said: "We are entering uncharted waters as the Covid-19 crisis continues to unfold but we remain hopeful that something of this season can be retrieved later in summer.

"This is important as the whole game, amateur and professional, is financially dependent on the resumption of the professional tournaments and the revenues that they generate.

"With postponement of these tournaments, the IRFU and the provinces are facing some daunting financial challenges around loss of revenue and cash flow and we must cut our costs.

"This arrangement will allow Irish Rugby the breathing space required in relation to cashflow that can ensure that when this crisis abates, we still have a business that can deliver for all those that play and love rugby."

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Similar cuts seem inevitable in New Zealand, where player wages are directly linked to 36.5 per cent of the national body's income, unless plans to stage local Super Rugby derby matches behind closed doors gets off the ground within the next two weeks.


The news comes as World Rugby postpone the men's sevens tournaments in London and Paris until September; likewise the women's event in Langford until later in the year.

The Under-20 World Cup, scheduled for northern Italy in June and July, has also been cancelled.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney today issued England's sweeping cancellation announcement that carries major financial implications for English rugby, while clinging to faint hope the Premiership will resume.

"In this extraordinary situation we are working through a range of potential financial scenarios dependent mainly on the length of this crisis," Sweeney said in his message to the community and semi-pro game.

"This was already budgeted to be a loss-making year within a four-year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and only hosting two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the entire country."

Lima Sopoaga of the Wasps. Photo / Getty
Lima Sopoaga of the Wasps. Photo / Getty

Premiership Rugby, the top end of the professional game, has been suspended until at least April 20, but with the football season postponed until at least May there is little hope rugby will be played before then.

Premiership clubs have moved swiftly to mitigate losses with at least seven proposing to cut wages by 25 per cent.

Wasps, where a number of New Zealand players including Lima Sopoaga, Brad Shields and Malakai Fekitoa reside, Gloucester, Saracens and Worcester have confirmed 25 per cent wage cuts. Other clubs are expected to follow.

Wasps chief executive Stephen Vaughan said: "As everyone is aware, we are living through extraordinary times and none of us can predict the future or speculate when the current situation will end.

"As a club and business, we are having to make difficult decisions to navigate these uncharted waters and ensure the club is in a position to continue its exciting journey when we come through this global emergency.

"Having discussed this situation at length with my colleagues from across the league, as well as Premiership Rugby, we are putting in place salary reductions of 25 per cent across the majority of the rugby department until we are playing Premiership matches again.

"These measures will take effect from 1st April 2020. A number of lower paid staff will be excluded from these salary reductions."

Sweeney's announcement brings further concerns for the second-tier Championship division, England's Mitre 10 Cup, following the RFU's recent decision to halve their funding.

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No promises of financial support have yet been forthcoming from the national body.

"There may well be much longer term financial implications which we are assessing now," Sweeney said. "It is therefore taking us some time to develop a considered position on how we can support clubs and the rugby community, which we will do.

"We are working through the implications of ending the season early and have instigated a thorough process to ensure fair and balanced outcomes for the game. While we would like to provide all the answers now, we need some time to get it right for the best interests of the game.

"We have already undertaken financial measures to safeguard the business enabling us to review all options and programmes to provide support for clubs in these difficult times.
"We welcome the measures announced by Government which could provide crucial support to professional and community clubs and the RFU.

"We are in regular contact with Sport England and The Sport and Recreation Alliance to understand how business rate relief and hardship funds can be accessed by clubs and will be providing assistance to make sure every club who is eligible will be supported."

The RFU will not confirm until next month how key issues such as promotion and relegation will be resolved.