Coronavirus: Championship return may be delayed until January 2021 amid further funding cuts

Cornish pirates v Ampthill
Cornish Pirates have not played since they won 30-13 at Ampthill in the Championship on 14 March

Second-tier English rugby union sides may not play again until next year and have had their funding further reduced, according to one club chairman.

The Championship was suspended in March because of Covid-19, with Newcastle promoted on average points per game.

Reigning Premiership champions Saracens will play in the division next season after breaching salary cap rules.

"My gut feeling is that it is likely to be the very start of January," said Cornish Pirates chairman Paul Durkin.

"We think at that stage the testing may have come down in price and eased depending upon the requirements.

"If by that stage we have a percentage of crowds allowed to return then it becomes financially feasible," he told BBC Radio Cornwall.

Durkin said he is concerned about the future viability of second-tier clubs, many of whom are professional.

A month before lockdown, they were told their £534,000 central funding from the Rugby Football Union was to be cut to £288,000 per club by the start of the 2022-23 season.

But Durkin says because of the pandemic the 12 clubs in the second tier have in fact had their funding cut to just £150,000.

The RFU has been forced to make more than 100 redundancies and cut costs because of losses of over £100m resulting from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saracens' England stars such as the Vunipola brothers and Maro Itoje are set to feature for the club in the second tier next season

"We have worked closely and collaboratively with the Championship clubs committee to agree funding that maintains support, despite the challenges the RFU faces in lost revenue," an RFU spokesperson told BBC Sport.

"All areas of the community and professional game will be impacted by RFU revenue losses; like most clubs the RFU receives its biggest income from hosting events at Twickenham Stadium, these revenues are then re-invested in rugby.

"We're working hard to ensure no area of the game is impacted disproportionately."

Currently all of Durkin's players are furloughed, and he estimates the cost of testing all his squad and coaches twice a week for Covid-19 when they return to training to be somewhere between £25,000 and £40,000 per month.

"This is the double whammy that the Championship clubs have got," he added.

"Players are on furlough and we'll play that out until the end of October.

"You need about eight weeks to get the players up to match fitness so the pre-seasons that would have started in July for a September start will now start probably at the beginning of November, which is when the furlough scheme ends.

"From November we will have to pay our contracts and if there is no money coming through the gates so you can guess the consequences."

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