French rugby organisers focusing on September
Due to the French government’s ban on all sport for the next four months, this season’s European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup quarter-finals will not be played before September.
Involving six French teams, the last eight of the competitions were due to take place from April 3-5, but had already been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, organisers European Professional Club Rugby are still keen to complete this season’s competitions if at all possible.
Irish sides Leinster and Ulster along with English teams Saracens, Northampton and Exeter are all due to play in the last eight of the Champions Cup.
Welsh clubs Scarlets and Dragons, Scottish side Edinburgh and Premiership teams Leicester and Bristol have all qualified for the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.
The finals of the two competitions had originally been scheduled to take place in Marseille next month, and there are concerns that if the competitions are not completed until September or October, there would be a knock-on effect on the 2020-21 tournaments, which are due to begin on October 16.
Easing the lockdown
On April 28 French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that the 2019-20 sporting season was over, as he announced plans to ease lockdown measures in the country, with children returning to school and many shops allowed to reopen from May 11.
The Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 football seasons will not resume until September, and café and restaurants will not be reopened before the beginning of June.
However, any chance of tying up the loose ends of the French club rugby season looks increasingly unlikely following the decision to cancel the Top 14 campaign and Pro D2, and concentrate on launching a full 2020-21 season in September.
It is thought the decision could set a precedent for the English Premiership, which is working towards a possible restart as early as June.
Project Restart is now being discussed by Premier League clubs, focusing on the logistical issues and planning needed for players to return to training and back into Premier League action.
Subject to government approval, the Premier League would like to be up and running again with behind-closed-doors matches, with a preferred start date of June 8.
In French rugby, Bordeaux Begles are currently at the head of the Top 14, eight points clear of Lyon.
But while the league winners are usually decided via semi-finals and finals, the league’s organisers are yet to announce whether any club will be named as champions.
French focus on new season
Unlike their English counterparts, the French clubs are not happy with the idea of having to resort to playing without crowds, and with mass gatherings banned in the country until September, the focus will now be on trying to start the 2020-21 season on time.
The Premiership and Pro14 are in a difficult situation, and inevitably subject to increasing financial pressure.
While the clubs are in desperate need of the monetary rewards that would accompany televised matches behind-closed-doors, there are some big issues to resolve before this can happen.
Glasgow coach Dave Rennie has already pointed out that if the current campaigns do not conclude until the end of the summer, the knock-on effect will put tremendous strain on the following season.