The hallowed turf of Twickenham may have been wind-swept and rain-soaked, and the usual roar of 80,000 fans absent with the Final having to be played behind closed doors, but the spirit of rugby shone bright as Exeter Chiefs and Wasps competed on the pitch to be named Gallagher Premiership Rugby Champions 2020.
In a thrilling Saturday night match that went down to the wire, both sides demonstrated all the grit, determination and teamwork that have characterised an extraordinary season and made us even more proud to be the title partner of Premiership Rugby.
Ultimately it was Exeter Chiefs’ day, beating Wasps 19 – 13 to complete a domestic and European double, with the 14 points kicked from Joe Simmonds’ boot proving the differentiator.
But back in March, with all play suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, rugby’s restart and the completion of our second season as sponsor was seriously thrown into doubt. How could players train and regain match-fitness in a full-contact sport while adhering to social distancing? But these and many other seemingly insurmountable challenges were overcome by players, coaches, management and supporters all pulling together to manage the risks.
We’ve even been behind-the-scenes at clubs with former England Rugby International and Gallagher Ambassador Ugo Monye to witness this risk management in action in our Gallagher Goes Live series – including player swab screening, GPS mapping of players in training and socially distanced scrum drills. This enabled us to share first-hand with fans just how resilient rugby is, and showcase its ability to adapt and overcome adversity.
Last month, on revealing the first fixtures for the third season of the Gallagher Premiership, Simon Matson, our UK CEO of Broking and Underwriting, paid tribute to the “hard work, dedication and innovation” combined with the “immense collaborative effort” of the entire rugby community that enabled rugby’s restart and season conclusion.
“Risk management and risk mitigation may be part and parcel of playing rugby – and what we do every day in support of our business and individual customers as an insurance broker,” he said, “but seeing it applied in such a multi-faceted and extensive way to enable the safe return of the professional game during the Covid-19 crisis has been hugely impressive. And we look forward to a time when stadiums can re-open safely so we can also give voice to our support through our local teams and their families, on the ground, pitch-side, in the communities we serve.”
Above all else, community is what has characterised this extraordinary 2019/20 season of Gallagher Premiership Rugby.
With no on-pitch play between March and mid-August, we switched our monthly award to recognise the inspiring off-pitch performances by players and clubs in supporting their local communities and delivering real and meaningful difference during lockdown. The Gallagher Community Player of the Month award was born in order to recognise this important social contribution.
Gallagher’s own promise to give back to local communities and support the vital work of grassroots rugby culminated in another season highlight earlier this month when Birmingham-based Erdington RFC were unveiled as our inaugural Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season.
We wanted to celebrate how grassroots clubs are contributing to their communities, championing inclusivity and finding innovative ways to increase participation. From over 100 entries, down to six amazing finalists, Erdington RFC was named our ultimate winner for its ‘Changing Lives Through Rugby’ initiative which is transforming the inner city lives of young people at risk of becoming involved in knife crime by introducing them to rugby and offering coaching in local schools in some of the UK’s most underprivileged communities.
Participation has also been the focus of our continued partnership with Project Rugby this season, where we’ve just hit a huge milestone of engaging 50,000 young people in the community inclusion programme – young people who would not typically have access to the game.
All in all, the 2019/2020 season is summed up by our Chairman, President and CEO Pat Gallagher, who said: “Community is a big word, stretching from the club, to the league, to the sport and out to all the people that celebrate it. It’s what connects us, and what counts.
“Someday we’ll return to something like normal. When we do, let it be with a new understanding of community and a deeper appreciation for how this sport can bring us together. See you next season!”