THE termination of the 2019/20 rugby season due to coronavirus has had a major impact at Taunton Rugby Club, both on and off the pitch.
The RFU’s decision to end the campaign came shortly after the Titans had moved top of National 2 South with victory over Esher on March 14.
And as Titans centre Nick Mason - also commercial coordinator at the club - admits, it leaves the squad and staff unsure whether they will be promoted to National 1 or not.
Mason told the County Gazette: “We weren’t naive to what’s going on [ahead of the Esher game].
“We spoke about it, and said that if this is to be our last game, we want to finish on the right terms, as we might not play again for six months.
“It’s a shame [to have the season end] but not unexpected - it was a tough decision to have to make.
“As a squad we were hugely disappointed. We would have liked to have gone through the season and finish the right way.
“We were excited for our final three home games.
“If it was to be [that Taunton were declared champions], we’d celebrate it and we’d deserve it.”
The loss of their three remaining home fixtures (against Leicester Lions, Sutton & Epsom and Old Redcliffians) is disappointing for players and supporters - and the club coffers.
“It’s impacted everyone; we have supporters who have come to most of our home games for years now, and they were excited for the finish to the season,” Mason said.
“We also had sponsors events and thank yous to do at the last three home games, and now we can’t do that in the way we’d have liked to.”
Promotion to National 1 would bring more expenses, not least in travelling, and Mason said: “A month ago, we’d have said that we all wanted to go up to National 1, but now we don’t know what position we’ll be in.
“The players want to test themselves at a higher level, but we can’t endanger the club.
“Wherever we are, we want to make sure it’s sustainable.”
Balancing the books is at the forefront of James Tolman’s mind.
With the club now closed, its general manager said: “These are worrying times for everyone.
“We’re a conference venue, and everyone’s cancelled up to June.
“We have some who have rearranged for September, but our cash flow’s gone.
“It’s such a shame for the players, supporters and sponsors, but it’s the same for everyone - we have to ride it out and see.
“The end of the season is crucial for us; that’s when we tend to get the biggest crowds, the most people in for lunch, and you can’t replace that.
“We just have to get through to next season and assess the situation, whether we’re in National 2 South or National 1.”
The RFU has said it would “provide support” for clubs, while the UK government has promised to pay 80 per cent of salary for staff who are kept on by their employer, as well as setting up a ‘Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund’.
Tolman said: “Any help would be so beneficial. The government has made announcements, but it’s a waiting game at the moment.
“The 80 per cent job retention scheme is great, as I have a big team to look after here - they have lives, families and bills to pay.
“But that’s not up and running yet.
“The hospitality grant could be a game-changer, but we’re waiting on our local authority for that.
“It has to be soon, and I’m talking about months, to ensure my team is still here when the pandemic is over.”