RUGBY boss Darren Childs ended his 109-day silence – by comparing himself to a pilot pulling-off an emergency crash landing.
The Premiership chief exec had been missing for almost four months.
But now he has finally steered the league in its return to action on August 14.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, former TV exec and rugby rookie Childs had appeared anonymous as Twickenham burned around him at times.
A blazing row erupted with the players’ union over pay cuts and top-flight clubs collectively started issuing statements on their own, free from the banner of the Premiership.
But now, with the new season resuming after 159 days away next month, and the 2020-21 campaign confirmed to kick-off on November 21, Childs has finally explained his great disappearing act.
The 54-year-old said: “We have not intentionally been cloak and dagger.
“I think, and I hope, people appreciate the sheer amount of work and complexity in getting to announce the first games.
“My view is that if the plane is in trouble, you don’t want the pilot telling you every move he is making.
“You want him to land the damn plane, and then come and tell you everyone is safe.
“We are a small team and we have been putting all of our energy into safeguarding jobs and the future of the business.
“We are through that now and you will be sick of the sight of us quite soon.”
Someone who certainly did seem sick of the sight of Childs, was Rugby Players Association (RPA) boss Damian Hopley.
Hopley was furious that his 700 plus members were bullied and pressurised into signing 25 per cent pay cuts in a short space of time.
The clubs went to war with their employees over slashing the salary cap by more than £1million.
Childs and the Premiership became public enemy no.1 for their star players.
The partnership is still soured, but Childs is working on repairing it.
You can only imagine the pressure during the tough times, so we decided we needed to move quickly and get on with it.
He said: “We have had a good, long-term relationship with the RPA and I have a huge amount of admiration with what the RPA does.
“That relationship had its moments and the best way to describe it was, we were looking at a position where matchday revenue for clubs was at zero overnight.
“We could see there would be potential downstream for the RFU with cancelling games and tours – so we knew the economic challenge was going to be big and it needed to be dealt with quickly.
“We engaged with the RPA a lot around the salary cap, but it is fair to say that we were operating at two different speeds.
“It became really clear to us that we would be very difficult for us to protect clubs, protect the league – you guys have seen clubs go under in the good times.
“So you can only imagine the pressure during the tough times, so we decided we needed to move quickly and get on with it.
“The clubs had to make some decisive decisions and I backed them on those decisions as well. It just meant that we got ahead of where the RPA was.
“That said, we are back around the table. We are taking to each other and trying to work things out and trying to look at what our future together looks like.
“Those early decisions we made have helped protect the finances and security of the club system that is an integral part of this league.”
Childs walked into a complete mess when he began his job last year.
Almost immediately he had to deal with the Saracens salary cap saga.
He then commissioned the Lord Myners report, off the back of that, as he looked into reforming the ‘Old Boys’ club’.
In fact, it wouldn’t be rugby union if there wasn’t one section of the game fighting with another.
And, amazingly, it appears that for once the Premiership’s noisy neighbours in Twickenham, the RFU, have actually come to some kind of agreement over the changes to the Test window for Eddie Jones’ England later this year.
After their tour to Japan was cancelled, England are expected to play their final their Six Nations game in late October with more Test matches the following month to end the most troublesome of years.
Childs added: “We have had a huge amount of collaboration over 2020 with the RFU.
“I think we are, if not done, pretty close to done on an agreement for how the rest of this year will play out.
“That has been done in a collaborative and collegiate way which helps the England game, but also respects and helps the club game as well.
“It shows a new and increased level of co-operation between the Premiership and the RFU.
“That is pretty much done and I know they are planning on a game on the same weekend that we are having our final, but I will let them talk about what their plans are.
“I think you will find there is a huge amount of agreement about this season and the start of our season for next time.”
Childs has landed the Premiership plane for now, but there will no doubt be plenty more turbulence to come.
And rugby fans will also be hoping that they don’t have to wait another 15 and a half weeks to find out about the masterplan for next season.