How rugby union is shaping up for a return to action

England’s top rugby union clubs have been given the go-ahead to resume training under certain conditions.

Here, the PA news agency looks in detail at how the sport is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Who can now train?

England’s Premiership and Championship clubs have been handed provisional approval to begin non-contact training from the Professional Game Board. Clubs must educate all players and support staff to ensure they can make an informed decision on whether to restart training. They must also appoint a Covid-19 manager and a medical lead, set out hygiene standards for training facilities, provide appropriate personal protective equipment and conduct daily screening, including temperature checks. Stage one protocols allow for individuals or small groups to train in the same facility, while adhering to social distancing rules. No timescale has been set for a return to contact training or games.

What club competitions plan to restart?

Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs – Premiership Rugby Cup – Kingston Park
Exeter top the Gallagher Premiership (PA)

The domestic season in England below the Gallagher Premiership was ended by the Rugby Football Union in March while Scottish and Welsh domestic competitions were all cancelled. No date has been set for a resumption of the Premiership. The Guinness PRO14 is provisionally scheduled to return on August 22-23 with two meetings between Irish provinces at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, but plans for the completion of the season are complicated by the fact the tournament is played in Scotland, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy and South Africa. The European rugby body is committed to finishing the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, which are both at the quarter-final stage, with provisional finals dates pencilled in for October 16-17. Talks are also continuing on a revamped format for next season’s competitions.

What about the international scene?

Wales v Scotland was postponed on March 13
Wales v Scotland was postponed on March 13 (PA)

There are four Guinness Six Nations games outstanding involving all of the teams. All summer tours, including England’s trip to Japan, were cancelled.  There remains doubt over the inter-hemisphere November Test series but it is hoped international rugby will take place later in the year, including a truncated version of the Rugby Championship featuring Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa.  World  Rugby also called time on its Under-20 Championship, which was scheduled in Italy this summer, while the postponement of the Olympics affected sevens tournaments.

Is any rugby union starting soon?

The Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby is due to begin in New Zealand on June 13. Australia is scheduled to follow in July with South Africa looking at plans for a domestic tournament when government restrictions allow.

What is the financial impact?

Rugby Australia this week axed 47 of 147 full-time posts plus 30 casual workers and contractors. Professional players, coaches and staff across the Home Nations have taken pay cuts and some have been furloughed. The already precarious USA Rugby filed for bankruptcy. There are major concerns over the impact of internationals being postponed later in the year. RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney stated that the English union stood to lose £122million if there were no matches at Twickenham in 2020 and predicted a six-year process “to get rugby back fully on its feet”.

How can the game adapt to the ‘new normal’?

Optional, temporary COVID-19 law amendments available for unions at domestic level if required. All aimed to reduce contact exposure in rugby.

— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) May 28, 2020

The sport faces heightened challenges in implementing social distancing and World Rugby has suggested a number of optional law changes during the crisis. The aim is to limit scrum contact and time, lower the tackle height and speed up ball distribution from rucks and mauls. The trials provide limits to scrum options with no scrum resets, limits for players joining rucks and mauls, time to play the ball at the base of scrums and rucks reduced from five to three seconds and only one movement permitted for a maul. However, the RFU has declared it will create its own guidelines for clubs.

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