Premiership Rugby has introduced a new points system for its clubs should Covid-19 force matches to be cancelled this season.
The conclusion of last season’s Gallagher Premiership season descended into chaos after Gloucester and Worcester were awarded five-point walkover wins following coronavirus outbreaks at Northampton and Sale.
The award of a 20-0 victory to Worcester ended Sale’s chances of finishing in the play-offs.
The new season starts on Friday and points will now be more evenly distributed in the event of Covid-enforced cancellations.
Using last season’s outbreaks as an example, Gloucester and Worcester would now be awarded four points and Northampton and Sale two.
PRL director of rugby Phil Winstanley said: “We effectively had a system that attributed fault.
“The problem with that it is difficult in the current landscape to say that somebody has done wrong and brought Covid to the environment.
“So we have done away with that slightly and now talk about responsibility rather than fault.
“When a club is responsible it feels harsh to take all the points when they’ve no opportunity to play for those in a replay. Equally it seems harsh to award the opposition five points.
“There is no science behind this but, after having a long debate with all the clubs involved, we feel the fairest way of dealing with this is to award two points to the team that was responsible and four points to the opposition.”
Winstanley confirmed that this weekend’s opening round of six fixtures will all go ahead as planned, with games at Harlequins and Sale starting the season on Friday.
Seven positive tests – five players and two coaching staff from three different clubs – were returned from the 967 tests conducted by the PCR Covid-19 screening programme this week.
“In July we adopted Covid-specific steps without really understanding what we were going into,” Winstanley said.
“We have a better understanding now but we still can’t predict what will happen next week, let alone June.
“We have to prepare for situations where we have an outbreak, and make decisions that are fair and equitable from a league perspective.”
Winstanley said that Premiership Rugby has the ability to cancel matches “clearly for the safety of players and officials”.
The league will also oversee a review period at the end of May before any decision is made over the Premiership’s season-ending semi-finals and final.
Premiership Rugby has also confirmed the introduction of stricter measures over the breaching of salary cap regulations.
Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million, also later submitting to relegation to the Championship, but there was no means for Premiership Rugby to strip them of silverware the club had accrued during the disputed period.
The tougher measures, which follow an independent review led by government minister Lord Myners, provide an independent panel with greater scope for punishment.
This includes a level-entry points deduction of 50 points at the top end, which could be decreased or increased, and the power to relegate a club, remove titles or trophies and to return prize money.
There will also be increased investigatory powers to study players’ tax returns and interview club officials.
Each year the champion club will undergo an extended audit, which will include the reviewing of club officials’ emails, texts and WhatsApp messages and at least 50 per cent of players’ tax returns and bank statements.
Accountability will also be expanded to club officials – be they qualifying shareholders, directors, directors of rugby – right through to players and players’ agents.