Super season in tatters over player strike threat

A PLAYER strike threat could derail the Super Rugby AU competition just nine days before it's due to kick off.

Australia's professional rugby players have rejected a new wage cut proposal by Rugby Australia, and on Tuesday night suggested sitting out the domestic competition to start on July 3 if they're not paid more.

The threat is of such substance that Melbourne Rebels players, booked on a flight to Canberra on Friday at 10am to play the Brumbies on July 4, are openly talking about not boarding the plane.

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The alarming development has come after RA asked players to take another pay cut until the end of the year.

All 192 professional players had accepted an average 60 per cent pay cut until September 30, in the belief that after RA had secured a broadcast deal for the new domestic Super tournament, they would be reinstated to full pay.

But despite a revised deal with broadcaster Fox Sports for the five-team Super Rugby AU tournament, cash-stricken RA has asked players to accept a 40 per cent pay cut from October 1 until December 31.

It means since April, the players will only have earned half their agreed salaries for the remainder of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The players have said they're only prepared to accept an average 20 per cent pay cut.

Rebels players have spoken about not boarding the flight to Canberra. Picture: Michael Klein
Rebels players have spoken about not boarding the flight to Canberra. Picture: Michael Klein

It has been suggested the players would accept a 30 per cent wage reduction from October through to the end of the year if it is offered in the next 48 hours.

In a Zoom video conference call between leading players and their union representatives RUPA on Tuesday, it was obvious that there is frustration from Wallabies stars that they're being asked to accept greater cuts than some RA staff.

 

That was when the idea of striking was raised, and it had unanimous support unless more money was offered.

RA had not been told of the strike threat directly by RUPA. The two parties will attempt to negotiate a deal by Friday.

"We are in ongoing dialogue with RUPA regarding a revised pay deal and are working in good faith to reach an agreement as soon as possible with Vodafone Super Rugby AU set to kick off in just over a week," an RA spokesman said.

RA cut 77 jobs - 47 full-time and 30 contractors - at the start of this month in a bid to save the organisation from insolvency.

RA interim chief executive Rob Clarke said at the time the remaining executive team would take five per cent pay cuts for the rest of the year, and assume far more responsibilities.

But that has aggrieved the players, who wonder why they're being asked to accept an additional 40 per cent pay cut from September 31 having already sacrificed the bulk of their wages since the coronavirus stopped the Super Rugby competition in March.

Rugby Australia have proposed further cuts to player wages. Picture: AAP/Julian Smith
Rugby Australia have proposed further cuts to player wages. Picture: AAP/Julian Smith

RA had to scramble to come up with a new tournament after Fox Sports stopped paying them due to lack of content.

After discussions with Western Force owner Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, RA agreed to a five-team tournament over 12 weeks involving the Perth franchise.

The first match is due to be played on Friday, July 3 between Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium. The grand final is scheduled for September 19.

A boycott is the last resort for the frustrated players, but it would result in RA losing the money agreed by Fox Sports to televise the tournament and plunge the code into a financial crisis that would threaten their immediate future.

Players from the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels have been in full-time training since lockdown started on individual programs before restrictions were lifted allowing them to return to team-based training last month.

The Force have gathered together in the past month to prepare for their re-entry, after RA axed them from Super Rugby in 2017.



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