Return of club rugby will involve non-contact element after long lay off

Provincial competition on the cards for August before return of All-Ireland leagues

The IRFU are conducting a series of online discussions this week with representatives of 60 All-Ireland League clubs/teams – 50 men’s and 10 women’s – to try and devise a rugby roadmap when the coronavirus pandemic permits a return to training and playing. The first step in that opening up process is expected to begin on Monday week, April 26th.

The priority initially will be a return to training in a safe and enjoyable environment for all players, young and old, male and female, irrespective of standard before agreeing structures with the clubs on a return to competitive rugby. The union’s guidelines demand that rugby returns in a non-contact format and that a month’s training is required before any consideration is given to playing matches.

The outline plan would be to potentially return to provincial competition in August, a much earlier start to the season, before moving on to any All-Ireland Leagues. It is contingent upon medical advice and Government permission.

Colin McEntee, director of rugby development at the IRFU, explained: “We have a lot of players who haven’t played in 16 or 17 months and we haven’t had a [full competitive] season for two years. We are trying to get ‘ready for rugby,’ to guide clubs through a safe return and have provided support initially through webinars and information days.

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“This week we are having three [online] forums for the AIL teams. We [talked to] representatives of the women’s clubs on Monday, the [men’s] Division Two clubs on Tuesday and the Division One clubs on Wednesday night. That will be very much about us listening and hearing what the clubs feel is the right thing to do, together.

“We will then start devising that roadmap in a formal way. The provinces are fully engaged as well on a summer of fun; different formats of the game, from non-contact to Sevens to 15s. We don’t have to do it in a cup campaign. It could be festivals, getting players and supporters back with a smile on their faces and getting them re-engaged with the club.

“The most important thing is that the experience the club offers is spot on for players, coaches, referees and volunteers at all levels of the game. You have to cater for everyone.

“When we did our webinars around the Six Nations we had nearly 14,000 participants watching, 83 per cent of clubs and 80 per cent of schools. There is an appetite out there. Rugby will return and there will be a suite of opportunities for participants to get back and have some fun in the first instance.

“We have relaunched Touch rugby, how to play it and how to coach it, how to run internal competitions, street leagues, all that sort of stuff. There will be a phase of non-contact rugby before you get back into a contact situation. We would guide a minimum of four-week return to contact in a structured format because we have been on the blocks for the last year and a half.”

The union’s rugby committee will discuss the information gleaned from the series of meetings with club representatives at a rugby committee meeting later in the week and from there will be in a position to devise a formal framework for a return to rugby.