BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Australia’s Super Rugby players return to action from Friday after a 3 1/2-month hiatus due to the coronavirus shutdown. They’ll be a bit lighter in their wallets when they do.
An agreement reached on Wednesday will see the players receive 70% of their original wage for the new in-house competition called Super Rugby Au.
Players from the Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies had been told to expect an average 60% cut after Super Rugby was put on hold on March 15. But negotiations over the last week between the players’ union and Rugby Australia resulted in only a 30% cut, keeping them in line with senior national office staff and new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
Reds flyhalf James O’Connor welcomed the agreement.
“There are guys in far worse positions than we are, but when it comes down to it, you want to feel that there is an exchange of value,” O’Connor said on Thursday. “I think they have come to a great agreement where we can go out and put our bodies on the line and do what we want to do, for everyone out there that loves rugby. I congratulate both parties for getting to an agreement so quickly.”
Recalled to the competition after being cut from Super Rugby in 2017, the Western Force are exempt from Rugby Australia’s pay agreement.
The Perth-based Force also have the first weekend off. The Reds will host the Waratahs on Friday, and the Canberra-based Brumbies will welcome the Rebels on Saturday.
The five teams will play home and away matches for 10 weeks followed by a two-week playoff series in September.
The matches in Brisbane and Canberra will be allowed a limited number of spectators due to both regions having low new infection rates of COVID-19.
The tournament will feature temporary rules, including goal-line dropouts to reward attacking kicks, replacements for red-carded players and extra time in drawn matches.
Before the shutdown, the Brumbies were second overall with a 5-1 record in Super Rugby, which includes teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
The Rebels were 3-3 and Reds 2-5. The Waratahs had only one win in six matches and will have to do without 98-test star Kurtley Beale, who has taken up an early invitation to play in France.
While Australian rugby returns to the field, New Zealand Aotearoa featuring that country’s five Super Rugby teams will play its fourth round this weekend, all with unlimited spectators due to New Zealand being virus-free.
“The more we can play in Australia and keep the time zones here,” O’Connor said, “and if we can introduce a little bubble with New Zealand and possibly some of the island teams as well, it would be exciting footy. I’m not saying the South Africans don’t (play exciting rugby), they play a brand of footy that they are very good at — but if the supporters want to see a bit more running then I think this is probably the way to go.”
Teams from the South African conference in Super Rugby, which includes Argentina, remain sidelined by the virus.
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