AROUND 200 of the country’s most committed rugby club representatives will take time out from their Christmas preparations this evening to attend – via video conference – the third and final instalment of the SRU’s 2020 annual general meeting.

The meeting would usually take place in the President’s suite at Murrayfield on a Sunday morning in mid-August, but the social distancing and travel restrictions prompted by Covid meant that could not happen, so it was initially split into two, before problems getting the accounts audited meant it ended up as a trilogy.

Tonight’s event is purely to deal with those belatedly audited financial statements for the year up to May 31. With the annual report being circulated on December 14, delegates have had eight days to digest the information and submit any questions they might have.

The fact that the auditors were only prepared to sign off the business of as a “going concern” over the next 12 months after a £15 million grant and £5m low-interest loan was received from the Scottish Government last week gives an indication of how precarious the situation is.

A £5.3m operating deficit was reported last year – which took in only two months of Covid – and with the first half of the season, including the Autumn Test schedule, being played behind closed doors, and no realistic prospect of meaningful ticket revenue any time soon, we know that the current financial year is going to be even tougher.

Clubs will, inevitably, be keen to have a breakdown of how that £20m from Holyrood will be distributed throughout all tiers of the game. That information was made available in football within days of the grant and loans being announced.

More generally, the clubs will seek reassurance that Scottish Rugby’s survival plan has worthwhile financial support to the grassroots game built into it.

The question of whether the professional game can remain viable in this country under the current model could also come up, as could the issue of how much store the Scottish Rugby Board is placing on being able to sell a slice of the Six Nations to private equity as the panacea to all its problems.

As well as that £20m government bail-out, Scottish Rugby has secured £20m worth of bank borrowing since the year end and received a further £9.4m from its share in the deal to sell a stake in the Guinness PRO14 to CVC (on top of the £8.4m received in May).

That’s a lot of money being pumped into keeping the business going, which will have long-term repercussions throughout sport for years to come, so the clubs will want to know whether enough is being done on the cost saving side to balance the books.

Chief executive Mark Dodson said after AGM part two that the £14m in savings he had targeted at the start of the pandemic has been achieved but there is little mention of that in the annual report.

Dodson has been adamant from day one that there will not be redundancies, but is that still the case?

The format of the meeting is not conducive to frank discussions but there is a fair bit of unrest in the club game at the moment with how things have been handled in the recent past, as demonstrated at AGM part two when they voted through with landslide majorities two motions designed to increase transparency and accountability.

As always with the annual report, there was a lot of positive spin but when the situation is as serious as this, some straight-up honesty will go a long way. Ultimately, the clubs and the Union need to be pulling together, but for that to happen the board will have to reassure its stakeholders that they have plotted the best path through this crisis.