Rugby: All Blacks, Super Rugby stars face 50 percent payment cuts as coronavirus bites

NZ Rugby will "freeze" player payments worth $25 million - or 50 percent - for the rest of 2020, as coronavirus bites the national game.

Super Rugby play has been suspended and scheduled All Blacks internationals are in doubt, as the sporting world battens down the hatches against the worldwide pandemic.

So NZ Rugby and NZ Rugby Players Association have announced financial measures that, while anticipated, will hit some of New Zealand's top professional athletes in the pockets - hard.

"In contemplating a scenario based on no professional rugby in 2020, NZR and the NZRPA together recognised the need to act now to prepare the game and the players for this, even if there is every intention of doing all we can to avoid it," says players association chief executive Rob Nichol.

"As a result, we have agreed to immediately freeze approximately $25 million or 50 percent of the remaining forecasted player spend in 2020.

"In the event that this financial scenario eventuates, the frozen payments and benefits would become waived permanently. Alternatively, if professional rugby can resume and the financial outlook improves, then some of the frozen payments and benefits could be reinstated."

The payment freeze also affects NZ Sevens and Black Ferns women, and covers the base salary of players, assembly payments, and other financial benefits and incentives, as well as reductions in player-funded welfare and development activities.

"Like most businesses, people are your greatest asset, and our staff and players are most certainly our No.1 priority," says NZR CEO Mark Robinson.

"We wanted to come up with solutions that worked for all our players and ensured that all sectors of our game were sharing in the financial pain we are currently enduring."

But not all players will feel the same pain, with higher-paid stars hit harder than their fringe teammates.

"Our payment model is complex and it has taken time to determine a model that treats all players equitably," says NZR professional rugby head Chris Lendrum.

"The model we have agreed protects those on retainers of less than $50,000. While not all players are being treated exactly the same, we felt these changes were the fairest way to address player payments and benefits, considering all the different ways our players are remunerated."

The cuts have been widely predicted, since Super Rugby play was halted last month, with participating nations closing their borders to limit the spread of COVID-19 around the world.

All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett was the first to raise the spectre of pay cuts, while last month, Nichol warned some players may need 'day jobs' to supplement their reduced salaries.

"The players signalled their desire to play their part right from the get-go and the conversations over the past few weeks have been very constructive," says Robinson.

"It was vital the sport was ready for whenever we can get back on the field." 

The best short-term hope for professional rugby to recoop some of its losses could be Super Rugby local derbies in New Zealand, Australia (including the Japanese Sunwolves) and South Africa (with the Argentinian Jaguares).

While the All Blacks' July home fixtures against Wales and Scotland have not been cancelled, doubt still surrounds their viability under current conditions.