Paul Grayson has urged rugby union not to rush back – whilst admitting that “catastrophe awaits” if it has not returned by "anywhere near year end”.
The World Cup winner comes at the debate from the unique perspective of former player, current coach, father of a Premiership star and respected media figure, both as a broadcaster and Daily Mirror columnist.
While he believes it would be fairly straightforward for him to resume coaching safely at Northampton, where son James is one of the kickers with whom he works, he says going from there to contact training and actually playing a game is a “hugely complex” step.
“I’d urge caution,” said Grayson. “If you go gung-ho now and you end up back at Ground Zero in terms of total lockdown, everyone at home, everything stopping, that makes no sense.
“Commonsense says proceed with incremental steps which work in tandem with what is happening more broadly in dealing with the pandemic.
“Once people generally are able to do more and the disease is doing less, that’s when you’re in a position to make the next step stick – as opposed to saying ‘everybody back in, we’re playing in June, whoops massive spike, everyone off ’til Christmas’.
“Do that and we’re in a world of pain.”
Premiership Rugby boss Darren Childs raised eyebrows in March when declaring that “we are all working to try and hopefully be the first sport back on television”.
Grayson describes that as an “ugly soundbite because it lacked nuance” and is far happier with the tone struck yesterday when government gave the green light for elite athletes to take the first step back.
The Rugby Football Union responded by saying it still had “significant work to do and discussions to be had with players and staff” before any form of training can resume.
Childs added: “Our priority is the health and safety of supporters, players, management, staff and the wider community, so our season will resume only when it is safe to do so.”
Grayson jokes that returning behind closed doors won’t seem that strange as “we’ve all watched Super Rugby so we’ve got half an idea what to expect!” – but knows rugby’s financial plight is no laughing matter.
“You get anywhere near the year’s end before anything’s happening and catastrophe awaits,” he said. “Something has got to happen before then in a safe way.
“The clubs are desperate for cash, everyone is. Everybody is fighting for the same small window of time to play catch-up.
“The danger is, having spent a number of years talking about player welfare, we go: ‘To squeeze things in to try and survive we’re playing three games a week for two months’.
“Do that and the product you'll get is going to be massively diluted. You’re going to get blowout scores on a Wednesday night when somebody sends an academy team away and they get done by 60.
“I can’t see how that is not inevitable if you’re going to try and finish competitions off. There’s going to be a joyous outpouring of love when rugby does come back. But we must proceed with caution."
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