England's top players can expect cuts to their match fees as a result of the coronavirus, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) said on Thursday.
Players at leading clubs such as Leicester have already seen their pay reduced by 25 percent because of the pandemic before being placed on the British government's furlough scheme and they could now see pay cuts at Test level.
While the likes of Premier League football and England cricket are gearing up for a return, the close contact physicality of rugby union means it could well be the last major English sport to get going again following months of Covid-19 enforced inactivity.
The RFU have previously warned a total wipeout of international rugby in Europe for the remainder of this year would cost them £122 million in lost revenue.
The England players' current deal expires in the summer and talks over new contracts are ongoing.
But RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, who has seen his salary and that of his senior colleagues including England coach Eddie Jones temporarily reduced by 25 percent as a result of the pandemic, warned the players might have to feel some pain when it came to their current 23 000 match fees.
"We are all facing really challenging situations," Sweeney told reporters during a conference call on Thursday.
"Clearly we need to cut costs but we're also looking at ways where we can share risk.
"We're in the middle of that conversation and that's an ongoing process."
With no certainty as to when the season will resume, northern hemisphere rugby union faces a fixture pile-up in October as re-arranged Six Nations matches, European Champions Cup club ties and domestic league games all jostle for a position in the calendar.
"You need that recognition that 2020 is an exceptional year and we have to sit around a table and find compromises that work for both sides," said Sweeney when asked how a potential clash might be avoided.
"We want to avoid a pure conflict situation with that and recognise the international game has got requirements and the club game also, but let's find a way through it."
Longer term, Sweeney added he was open to the prospect of summer rugby, saying the RFU thought it "can work".
"But we are also mindful of the challenges it can throw up," he said.
"For the community game summer rugby may not work because a lot of pitches and clubhouses are shared across different sports and there is a challenge in that."
Meanwhile Sweeney said nothing was off the table when it came to next year's calendar amid speculation the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa may be pushed back from July and August to October.
"In terms of the global calendar, you can't approach this topic unless you include every single component in there, so the conversations around the global calendar have included the Lions," said Sweeney.