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Leinster remaining hopeful amid fears 2020 could be lost



Positive thinking: Guy Easterby would rather look to better-case scenarios

Positive thinking: Guy Easterby would rather look to better-case scenarios

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Positive thinking: Guy Easterby would rather look to better-case scenarios

No one knows when rugby will resume and Leinster's Guy Easterby was keen to get across the message that in the greater scheme of things it doesn't really matter.

The province's director of operations paid tribute to those working on the front line and praised the IRFU for the clarity of their response to the crisis.

While he is right and there are more important matters at play, the business of sport is relying on the show going on at some point.

Leinster, he says, are well-placed financially to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis despite taking a large financial hit, but the mood around sport has grown more gloomy this week and Easterby noted Simon Harris' comments around public gatherings on Monday.

In Scotland, a union letter was reported that cast doubt on the autumn internationals taking place, while French federation chief Bernard Laporte has suggested there will be no more rugby in 2020.

Yesterday, the Clermont president said the 2019-20 season is effectively over after French president Emmanuel Macron extended the lockdown there until May 11 and a ban on public gatherings until July.

Others within French rugby hope to rescue the campaign, while Leinster are operating with a "soft plan" of returning to training on May 15 along with the rest of Irish rugby.

As Easterby admitted, however, it's very much a movable feast and he stressed everything will be guided by public health officials.

"No one knows the answer but we do have to be proactive in terms of how we approach things," he said.

"That's why the IRFU and the leagues that we're involved in have been great in terms of just looking at different scenarios. Looking that far away in terms of there being no rugby in 2020 is pretty hard to contemplate at this point because there could also be rugby in July and August - we don't know the answer to that.

"While you have to consider it, I'd rather be considering some of the better-case scenarios."

The situation could mean Ireland having seven successive matches if rugby resumes before the autumn, but Easterby accepts that the revenue-generating international team will take precedence as the IRFU look to claw back lost revenue.

"We understand how important those high-value games are to us regaining some financial stability," he said.

"From the Leinster end, we're fully supportive of that and we'll do whatever asked in terms of rowing in and making sure we can get our fantastic game up and running, that's the most important piece."

If rugby does not resume or games go ahead behind closed doors, Leinster will lose in excess of €1m (£870k) in gate revenue from their Aviva Stadium fixtures against Saracens and Munster alone.

"I wouldn't want to get into exact figures but it would be a lot of money," Easterby said.

"We don't budget for a home quarter-final but it is very important to us to try and achieve that. Then we have the Munster game which is that annual game in the Aviva which you know is an important part of our financial model.

"With the World Cup - that would normally take place in October and we'd have that game done and the money banked so to speak.

"There is still hope among a lot of us that there might be some conclusion to the season.

"Whether those games go ahead is probably looking less likely but we're not prepared to give up on it, it's on how Covid-19 plays out. It will give us a better sign of how the season run-in might look like.

"We obviously then have those challenges around can we have mass gatherings and what they look like.

"As a business we've had some success over a period of time that allows us to have a sound financial footing that allows us to ride out a period of time to hopefully come through the other side of this."

Belfast Telegraph