"This will get back to normal": Castle confident rugby can survive coronavirus crisis

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle is confident the sport will rebound from the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic despite admitting suspension of competitions would put immense financial strain on the organisation.

Castle said alternative domestic competition models were being looked at as an alternative to Super Rugby during the competition's suspension, while the Super W finals will be postponed until late May.

The impact of the pandemic also caused Rugby Australia to pause their broadcast negotiation process, which was set to conclude this month.

Castle said should restrictions continue, the national organisation and the game as a whole would be in serious financial trouble.

"The impact of government decisions to contain the coronavirus has seen rugby in Australia impacted in ways that we could never have imagined," she said.

"We support these decisions as the health and wellbeings of Australians must come first.

"However any ongoing restrictions will put extreme pressure on Rugby Australia's finances.

Rugby Australia has paused broadcast negotiations as they contemplate the sport's next step. Photo: Getty Images"We are obviously not the only sport in the country facing these challenges in the current environment.

While she admitted the delay to the broadcast deal was "less than ideal", Castle said she was confident the pause wouldn't derail the process.

Offers were initially expected to be tables this week before a finalisation of a new deal at the Rugby Australia AGM at the end of the month.

"We're still only in March and we don't start, there's another nine months until we require a new broadcast deal.

"It's less than ideal, obviously we would've liked to have been able to complete the process but at the end of the day this was something none of us saw coming and certainly the people that we are in very positive and constructive conversations with didn't see coming and they need to focus on those things."

"This will get back to normal at some stage.

"Rugby plays a very important role in the world sporting calendar and we know the rugby community to make sure we can deliver those outcomes.

"We've got a really long runway including up to Lions in 2025, we've got a really strong schedule, I know we've got a lot to offer our broadcasters so I'm really confident we've got a great product to sell, we just have to make sure we're in the best place to have those conversations.

Rugby Australia is yet to seek federal government funding to soften any financial blow but Castle said they had spoken about the potential need for help.

SUPER RUGBY

SANZAAR and national organisations are working to find an alternative to Super Rugby. Photo: Getty ImagesCastle said there were ongoing discussions with SANZAAR, Rugby Australia and the Super Ruby teams about a number of competition models to be played in Super Rugby's suspension.

Super Rugby is set to be suspended for a minimum of two weeks and it appears increasingly likely that when teams do return to playing rugby, it will be in some form of domestic competition.

The Western Force has been part of those discussions as well as the four Australian Super Rugby teams.

Castle said there wasn't a firm date for rugby to resume but expected do be able to shed some light on an alternative format in "coming days".

"We haven't got to a final date yet (on when competition would resume)," she said.

"That's what all the SANZAAR nations are working together with their competition managers to see if we can find a competition that makes sense, that links into the games that have already been played, potentially gives us an outcome that allows to still play a finals series.

"We're working cross-country from a SANZAAR perspective and also in consultation with our broadcasters.

"The travel restrictions mean that cross-border competition doesn't seem realistic so domestic obviously leads the conversation.

"That's all the work we're doing and we expect we'd be able to communicate on that in the  coming days."

Regardless of the format, there is still the risk that one positive coronavirus test would shut down the entire competition, Castle said.

As yet, no Super Rugby player has tested positive to COVID-19 though two Sevens players are currently awaiting their test results and a NSW Super W player was tested and cleared last week.

WALLABIES

With the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, Castle said she could not say whether July's Tests against Ireland and Fiji would go ahead.

Wallabies Tests provide a large chunk of revenue for the national organisation and any impact on those matches, off the back of a reduced home Test season in 2019 ahead of the World Cup, would be problematic.

"You'd be a very brave person to suggest that you thought that was going to be the case," she said.

"I don't know. If you'd asked me four days ago would I be standing here doing a press conference in front of everyone saying Super Rugby is going to be played in front of no crowds, I would've said you were crazy.

"This is moving very fast, it's a worldwide issue that we're only part of the challenges that we're facing. We've been talking to World Rugby, I know they are thinking through the implications of what that might look like from a Test calendar, all international teams playing in those environments and as yet, we just don't know."