English rugby season ended below Premiership level

London (AFP) –


English rugby chiefs on Friday confirmed the end of the 2019/20 season for all levels beneath the Premiership due to the coronavirus.

The move applies to "all league, cup and county rugby", according to a statement from the Rugby Football Union (RFU), which said it was in "active discussions" with the Premiership.

RFU chief Bill Sweeney said in a letter to rugby clubs: "We are working through the implications of ending the season early and have instigated a thorough process to ensure fair and balanced outcomes for the game.

"We will communicate these outcomes by the middle of April. While we would like to provide all the answers now, we need some time to get it right for the best interests of the game."

Runaway leaders Newcastle are targeting promotion to the top-flight Premiership from the second-tier Championship.

Saracens' relegation from the Premiership as punishment for repeated salary cap breaches has already been confirmed and Newcastle looked likely to take their place.

The RFU had previously suspended all rugby activity until April 14, while the Premiership is currently due to resume on April 24.

There are nine rounds of Premiership matches remaining before the scheduled semi-finals and final.

Exeter lead the table by five points after 13 rounds of fixtures.

With the coronavirus wrecking havoc on global sport, next month's European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup quarter-finals have been postponed.

The Pro14 competition and France's Top 14 league are suspended while the Six Nations has not been completed.

Sweeney warned that Twickenham -- the home of English rugby -- was facing financial challenges due to the disruption caused by coronavirus.

"We benefit from strong Twickenham stadium revenues but we are also exposed if there is widespread cancellation of games and events," he said.

"This was already budgeted to be a loss-making year within a four-year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC (Rugby World Cup) campaign and only hosting two home Six Nations games.

"The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the entire country."