Worcester supremo Alan Solomons fears player development will be halted in its tracks unless Championship and National League sides get back up and running.
While Premiership clubs have seized on a congested fixture list to blood an army of young players since top-flight action resumed on August 15, that window will soon close and academy stars and fringe players face the prospect of months without competitive rugby.
With the A-League and Premiership Cup scrapped for season 2021/21, due to start on November 20, and hopes for Championship and National Leagues returning by Christmas receding due to spikes in Covid-19, a high proportion of young players will have nowhere to play.
Dual-registration has played a big part in player development but that avenue is in severe doubt and Solomons admits clubs will struggle to fill the void.
“It’s a worry,” he told The Rugby Paper. “There’s going to be a vacuum and it’s hard to see what we can do about it.
“There’s a unique situation at the moment where we’ve been able to do what we have with our young players over a period, which has been fantastic for their development, but we will be back into a more normal Premiership season in November and things will change.
“There’s no other competition for these players – no A-League, no Premiership Cup – and if the Championship and National Leagues aren’t up and running again, it’ll be unfortunate because we have good relationships with a number of sides in the lower leagues.
“Up until now we’ve been using our whole squads, but once this season is over we’ll go from feast to famine and we’ll go into a very different situation from November.”
University rugby is facing similar challenges, with Exeter University boss Keith Fleming confirming that the hugely productive BUCS League is suspended until New Year.
Fleming told TRP: “Competitive BUCS League fixtures are postponed until January, so it’s frustrating because I’ve got a massive squad of talented young men but no rugby.
“We’ve got a National League side as well so we’re hoping that will kick-in at some stage, but at the moment all we can work on is training and getting guys up to speed.
“Once we get to stage ‘E’ on the RFU’s map, we’ll be playing a lot of in-house fixtures and we’re determined to make sure they play plenty of rugby before Christmas.
“We all need to play competitive rugby, though, and the sooner we can get that going again, the better.”
The success of Exeter’s BUCS programme was highlighted last week when students Richard Capstick, Luke Mehson and Will Yarnell represented Exeter Chiefs at Saracens.
Fleming added: “We had our post-grad prop Matt Johnson out there as well so for four of our guys to now have Premiership caps is something we’re hugely proud about. Universities are a massive part of the player pathway now and we do need to be playing again.”
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