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?
However, amateur players across the UK and Ireland have had very limited, if any, opportunities to get involved in rugby over the past year. The community game did start to take steps towards a return in the second half of last year, but the increased Covid-19 cases over Christmas and at the start of 2021 meant everything come to a halt until late March.
As restrictions begin to ease, the grass-roots game is starting to return, although in varying formats. 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.”
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?
Outdoor sport in England could resume on 29 March as part of the easing of lockdown restrictions and the RFU have confirmed a six-stage process for the return of community rugby.
Each stage is dependent on the Government’s roadmap progression, with the move from Stage A, which allows training with one other person, to D1 from 29 March. D1 allows contact training without scrums and mauls, although RFU guidance maintains that sessions shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes of contact, as well as O2 touch, tag and Ready4Rugby matches between clubs.
From 26 April – dependent on Government guidance – Stage D2 of the rugby roadmap allows adult and age-grade matches with adapted laws (no scrums or mauls).
The move to Stage E1, which allows full contact training, is provisionally scheduled for when step three of the Government roadmap is reached, which won’t be before 17 May. Two weeks after that comes Stage E2, which permits full contact matches.
Finally, when the Government reaches step four and lifts all restrictions in England, rugby will do the same and move to Stage F.
“This is fantastic news for the community game,” said RFU rugby development director Steve Grainger. “We are pleased to be able to publish our plan for a phased return to full contact rugby.
“It’s wonderful to see light at the end of the tunnel. We are as delighted as clubs and players across the country that training can soon resume. Subject to each step on government’s roadmap, there’s progress towards an exciting season of rugby for 2021-22 from September.”
For the latest information from the RFU, visit englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/coronavirus
When will rugby return in Ireland?
The Irish Government moved to Level Five restrictions in December meaning that there could be no matches or club training, only individual fitness work. While a cautious easing of certain restrictions has begun, the earliest community rugby looks likely to return in the Republic of Ireland is 26 April.
That is the initial date that has been set for the reopening of outdoor sports facilities, like rugby pitches, and the resumption of U18 non-contact training in groups of 15. For adults, there is no set date for a return to training with activities still limited to a maximum of two households even when facilities reopen in late April.
In Northern Ireland, clubs can restart outdoor training for groups of 15 (inclusive of players and coaches) from 12 April. For children aged 12 and under, there can be three groups of 15 training on one rugby pitch at a time while for those aged 13 to 18 it is two groups of 15. For adults, only one group of 15 is permitted per pitch.
As yet there is no timeline on when matches between clubs can be played.
Last summer, when Irish clubs could start their phased return to training, they had to complete the Covid-19 Safety Planning Stage and confirm it with their province. This included appointing a Covid-19 club safety officer, completing a risk assessment and availing of IRFU training support.
For the latest information from the IRFU, visit irishrugby.ie/running-your-club/return-to-rugby-for-clubs
When will rugby return in Scotland?
The Scottish Government has set out a ‘cautious route out of lockdown’ and outdoor contact sports for children aged 12-17 could return from 5 April.
Providing the progress out of lockdown doesn’t see a rise in Covid cases, outdoor contact sports for adults will resume on 17 May.
Scottish Rugby’s Threat Management Group are working on a return to play framework and chief medical officer Dr James Robson has been providing regular updates.
When clubs resumed training last year before this lockdown, there were three requirements clubs had to meet: undertaking a risk assessment of facilities; appointing a Covid-19 safety co-ordinator; ensuring coaches, match officials and volunteers complete a mandatory online course.
For the latest information from Scottish Rugby, visit scottishrugby.org/scottish-rugby-updates
When will rugby return in Wales?
The WRU has outlined a Pathway to Participation to help players get back to community rugby.
U18 players could to resume rugby training from 27 March and play tag or touch fixtures from 1 April. Then from 1 May, all teams will be permitted to return to limited contact training (no scrums) with the plan to allow competitive sevens and tens fixtures from mid-June and 15-a-side matches from mid-July, all under modified laws.
The WRU described the pathway as “a detailed plan with an initial focus on a summer of fun formats of the game to help ease players of all ages back into contact rugby”.
For the latest information from the WRU, visit community.wru.wales/2021/03/24/pathway-to-participation
Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.