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At my age I questioned whether I should be in the England squad – Willi Heinz

England scrum-half Willi Heinz

Gloucester No.9 Willi Heinz says top-flight players must brace themselves for a “new normality” as the game battles to overcome the global health crisis.

Along with hundreds of Premiership professionals, Heinz is getting his head around a 25 per cent wage cut as clubs tighten their belts in a fight for survival.

He accepts personal sacrifices must be made if players are going to have jobs to come back to.

Heinz, who under lockdown is teaching his three children, told The Rugby Paper: “It’s obviously come as a shock to everyone and it’s disappointing the season’s on hold, but there are bigger things in play out there.

“In terms of the pay, it’s upsetting and it causes disruption to people’s lives throughout the whole Gloucester organisation. You’ve got people who are earning pretty good money, but then you’ve got the Kingsholm staff who probably aren’t earning loads.

“It hits everyone in different ways and while your initial reaction is to think of your own situation, you’ve got to have empathy and understand that other people are going through difficult situations as well.

“Ultimately, we love the club and from talking to people in other teams, that’s the reaction most guys have had throughout the game. The club don’t want to be doing this but if we want professional rugby to continue in the UK, these are the measures we have to take.

“As players at Gloucester, the message we gave back to the management was that what we all want to see is games back on and the club continuing to provide the product for our supporters and television companies. As soon as that comes, we’ll be ready to go.”

While concern has been expressed over player welfare issues in the event of outstanding top-flight games being compressed into a shorter timeframe as and when play resumes, Heinz concedes: “We’re going to have to adapt to a new normality around what professional rugby looks like when the games do start coming back on.

Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz
Empathetic: Willi Heinz accepts wide-ranging changes may have to be adopted by rugby. Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“From having six or seven-day turnarounds and full stadiums, that’s probably not going to be the norm. We might be playing behind closed doors, we might be playing a couple of games a week, where your academy is going to be even more important, and there’s even talk of not having 23 players available.

“There might be just three or four subs, and perhaps the clock just rolls all the way through so the games are a bit quicker. We just have to adapt and be open to change.”

With the rest of the game facing swingeing cutbacks after the RFU announced they expect to lose between £45m-£50m over the next 18 months, England head Eddie Jones has not been immune to reductions, agreeing a 25 per cent wage cut prior to the announcement this week he had signed a two-year extension through to the 2023 World Cup.

Heinz is in no doubt about Jones’ worth to the English game. He said: “All I can say on behalf of the squad about Eddie is that we love the environment he creates.

“He’s certainly the best coach I’ve played under in terms of attention to detail and the support he provides. It’s a challenging environment but with that comes all that support and he makes sure you’re in the best possible place to execute on any given day.

“I know England had a run of losses in 2018 but apart from that he’s done amazing things with this team. To get to a World Cup final was impressive and although we lost that and then came back and dropped another game against France, since then our consistency has been good and that’s down to the environment he creates.”

Heinz, 33, added: “The players have a ton of respect for him and one of the things I’ve really noticed since being involved are the one-on-one relationship he seems to have with guys in the squad.

“The relationships are there, you can see it in the conversations he has, and with 30-40 players to deal with he puts so much time into it.

“Personally, that’s helped me massively because coming into the set-up relatively late in your career, you do have question marks over whether you should be there or whether you’re up to it. But he’s been so good at simplifying the game and getting the best out of me.

“I love what he does for the No.9s and 10s in having loads of conversations between us about trends in the game, where the game’s heading and what we can do to keep learning and influencing things ourselves. It’s been an awesome experience under Eddie.”

NEALE HARVEY

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