We take a look at the various processes in place across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

When will rugby return in the UK and Ireland?

The professional leagues – Gallagher Premiership and Guinness Pro14 – both returned in August, albeit that matches are being played behind closed doors.

Amateur players across the UK and Ireland are also now taking their first steps towards rugby’s return too. When rugby is permitted is determined by each country’s goverment restrictions (see below), but World Rugby has released return to play guidelines.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We are all missing the sport that we know and love. While it is difficult not to be playing or training, advice by the respective governments and authorities must be adhered to.

“World Rugby, in full partnership with unions and players, has been busy behind the scenes ensuring that everything is in place for a safe and speedy return to the sport when it is appropriate to do so. This includes delivering best-practice coaching, refereeing and conditioning webinars, resources and apps and, of course, a phased roadmap for the sport’s return to training and playing.”

Related: World Rugby’s Covid-19 Return to Play Guidelines

World Rugby’s Covid-19 Return to Play Guidelines

Waiting game: A full house at Twickenham seems a long way off (Getty Images)

Here’s a look at the different processes in place for a return to rugby across the UK and Ireland…

When will rugby return in England?

The RFU has set out a six-stage road map, with more training activity allowed as the government lifts restrictions.

From 1 September, clubs could move to Stage D, which allows limited contact training at clubs. Mauls, scrums, opposed lineouts and upright tackles are still not permitted because of the risk of transmission, and contact training can only be done in groups of six or fewer, but allowing some contact activity is an important first step.

As well as introducing contact, clubs can now arrange non-contact fixtures (touch or Ready4Rugby) with other clubs.

 

As for when full-contact training and matches can resume, it comes down to risk areas for virus transmission. Managing the environment around the pitch and limiting the risk of transmission from touching equipment through hygiene practices is doable, but airborne transmission is harder to control, with the scrum, upright tackles and mauls all risk areas.

Until the overall infection rate falls, it is hard to see those elements of the game permitted. Therefore it’s likely a modified format of rugby – for example, tackles at the waist and below only – could be introduced first.

While matches under modified laws wouldn’t be part of a league season, the RFU has released several competition models for 2020-21, depending when traditional full-contact matches resume.

When will rugby return in Ireland?

Irish clubs could only return to non-contact training in small groups from the start of July if they had completed the Covid-19 Safety Planning Stage and confirmed it with their province. This included appointing a Covid-19 club safety officer, completing a risk assessment and availing of IRFU training support.

The IRFU advised clubs to build in contact work from 1 August, starting with pads and shields before introducing one-on-one contact scenarios at a gradually increasing pace.

It’s the same with the set-piece – start with unopposed lineout work in smaller numbers before increasing numbers, then adding opposition; start with one v one in the scrum then increase numbers and work against a machine before going eight v eight in a live scrum.

While clubs in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are currently aligned in what they can do, it’s worth checking the latest advice should guidelines from the two governments change and affect what is permitted.

In terms of competitive matches, the IRFU have introduced the Energia Community Series, which will feature conferences of teams from the same province and starts in late September.

Then the All-Ireland leagues will start in January, with a nine-match season followed by semi-finals and final in all men’s and women’s divisions.

When will rugby return in Scotland?

There are three requirements clubs must meet before returning to training as part of Scottish Rugby’s six-stage plan: undertaking a risk assessment of facilities; appointing a Covid-19 safety co-ordinator; ensuring coaches, match officials and volunteers complete a mandatory online course.

Scottish clubs moved to Stage Three in mid-July, where they could train in small groups with no contact, and the easing of government restrictions means from 24 August clubs can play modified touch rugby.

Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr James Robson, has been providing regular updates on what clubs should do in training.

When will rugby return in Wales?

Welsh clubs could return to non-contact training in small groups (ten to 15 people) from 1 August providing players have completed the WRU’s online registration process.

All coaches and players (or parents of junior players) must also do World Rugby’s Covid-19 Return to Play awareness course before returning to club training, while a symptom checker must be completed via the online portal WRU Game Locker prior to sessions.

From late August, adults could also play touch rugby as part of club training, bringing them in line with the U7 to U11 age groups.

As for contact training, this  is down to the Welsh Assembly and there are two likely scenarios. First, that there is no limit on social distancing in Wales. Second, that the Assembly make allowances for contact sport in a graduated way.

In the meantime WRU community director Geraint John is encouraging clubs to be innovative and creative so they can work on improving facets of the game that can be practised while social-distancing measures are in place.

He says: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for coaches and players to hone individual and team skills that will benefit the game in the long term.”

For more information on each country’s return to play plans as well as an exclusive interview with World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Eanna Falvey, check out the September 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine, which is on sale from 4-31 August. To order a single issue online, select Sep-20 via this link.

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