Premiership Rugby set target date to resume season on Saturday, August 15… but some rounds of 2019-20 fixtures may have to be sacrificed
- Premiership Rugby clubs are preparing a return to training from next week
- On Thursday, it was agreed staging fixtures from mid-August is a realistic target
- Further obstacles will have to cleared, in terms of following Government rules
- Further details are still to be clarified, in relation to how fixtures will be set out
Premiership Rugby have set a target of resuming their disrupted league season on Saturday, August 15 – providing the restrictions on group activities continue to be eased.
With clubs preparing for a tentative return to training from next week, it was agreed at a PRL board meeting on Thursday night that staging fixtures from mid-August is a realistic objective. However, further hurdles will have to be cleared in terms of adhering to Government guidelines relating to work-place safety measures and testing procedures.
In a statement, PRL chief executive Darren Childs said: ‘Nothing will happen until it is safe to do so but we will do everything we can to resume the 2019-20 Gallagher Premiership Rugby campaign on August 15.
Premiership Rugby are hoping to restart the disrupted league campaign on August 15
‘We won’t take risks with people’s health – and rugby has unique challenges due to levels of proximity and impact. But with a number of clubs moving to Stage 1 (training), it is important for us to give players, coaches and clubs clarity on when they can look to return. Bearing that in mind, we look forward to the re-start of the season.’
As reported by Sportsmail this week, there has already been an agreement between the clubs about a framework for minimum training time prior to any return-to-play stage. It is understood that there must be at least four weeks of ‘impact’ training before fixtures resume, with two or more weeks of lower-intensity activities – largely involving fitness and skills work – before that. Most clubs are due to resume group sessions in some form by June 15, so they will have two months to prepare.
It has long since been apparent that PRL’s ambition to be ‘the first sport back on TV’ was unrealistic due to the close-contact nature of the sport, which adds complexity to attempts to comply with coronavirus guidelines. However, there have been growing fears among many players and officials that the season may never be finished, so this development is a positive one.
Further details are still to be clarified, in relation to how the fixtures will be set out and whether they can all be completed as planned. The clubs have been desperate to fulfil their schedule in full, to avert any threat of a damaging loss of broadcast income, but Friday’s statement notes that ‘the structure of the 2019-20 season will follow in due course’.
It was agreed at a board meeting on Thursday that staging fixtures in mid-August is realistic
Exeter Chiefs sat top of the Premiership before the season was suspended in March
So many scenarios have been discussed, amid the frantic contingency planning. Given how late the campaign is due to resume, it is now clear that next season will start very late – perhaps even early next year, to fall in line with a proposed new global calendar, aligning north and south. Some rounds of 2019-20 fixtures may have to be sacrificed – despite a willingness to play in midweek as well as at weekends – but there will be a desire to stage the play-off semi-finals and final as normal.
How this all fits into the bigger picture of club and Test scheduling remains to be seen. For now, the overall vision appears to involve European knock-out matches taking place from late September, through to mid-October. Re-arranged Six Nations and July tour international games are also set to be held in October, subject to the easing of travel restrictions, before a November programme which could be a standard north v south format in Europe, or the start of a ‘home and away’ Six Nations.
Much work is still to be done and rugby has a long way to go to prove that it can properly function again at this time of health fears and enforced distancing. But there is a date to strive for. There is some hope of partial normality ahead.
Premiership clubs are preparing for a tentative return to training from next week
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