RUGBY players can return to their clubs this week for non-contact training.
It’s the first step towards the start of the new season and the staging of friendlies at the end of August.
The plan, then, is to begin competitive rugby on the weekend of September 5-6, on a local level initially, then provincial and the 30th All-Ireland League.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) updated its ‘return to rugby’ roadmap for clubs after reviewing phase three of the government guidelines. However, all clubs must complete the Covid-19 safety planning stage and confirm a health-and-safety plan with their province before resuming training at any level.
The non-contact phase lasts three weeks and sessions must not be longer than an hour and should be centred on fitness, skill development, tag, touch, and seven-versus-seven, on one half of the pitch.
A graduated return to contact starts on July 20 and it will be guided by the latest news from the Government on restrictions. There will be no scrums or mauls in the beginning, with sessions lasting a maximum 70 minutes.
Drills are to be performed in very small groups, like one-on-one tackling, two-versus-one rucking, and three-versus-two in defence.
Scrummaging is to start with one-on-one, two-on-two, three against a machine, and build up to a full engagement of two sets of forwards. Unopposed lineout training should begin with three players, before progressing to seven and then adding opposition, with a limited amount of mauling time.
The IRFU’s medical director, Rod McLoughlin, stressed the importance of adherence to all public health measures, regular hand-washing, and coughing and sneezing etiquette.
“We must remember, at all times, that Covid-19 has not been eliminated from this island,” McLoughlin said. “It is critical that clubs continue to minimise risk and adhere to all public health measures in place.
“Rugby will only return in a meaningful way if we adopt the right behaviours that will keep ourselves, our team-mates, and our club mates safe,” he said.
The All-Ireland League finished abruptly in March and McLoughlin urged clubs to be cautious in their handling of players. PPE kits, containing masks, gowns, anti-septic wipes and hand-sanitising, wall-mounted dispensing machines, have been sent to all clubs.
The return of professional soccer in Germany, Spain, Italy, and England has shown the frequency of injuries, with players struggling to complete 90-plus minutes in games.
“It has been over 100 days since any club player has been involved in competitive rugby and we have seen from other team sports that have returned earlier than rugby that there is an increased risk of injury,” McLoughlin said.
“That means clubs will have to be extra-cautious around the training loads they are putting in place.
“Player welfare still applies around injury prevention, just as much as it does in terms of Covid-19,” he added.
Colin McEntee, IRFU rugby development director, urged clubs to return to training only when they were ready. “We are sticking to the plan we laid out for clubs in May,” McEntee said. “While a more defined timeline is now in place, clubs should only return when they are ready to do so. We have already seen a handful of clubs put a Covid-19 club health-and-safety plan in place and resume with reduced activities.
“Given the restricted nature of these activities, we don’t see any clubs being left behind as we continue to work towards a return to competition in September. I encourage all clubs to plan for that time with the highest safety standards in mind,” he said.