THE return of competitive club rugby in Scotland has been postponed, as anticipated, until January 2021 at the earliest, as a response to the public health issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision is based on the recommendation of the Scottish Rugby Council, after consultation with Murrayfield’s Rugby Development department, and has the Scottish Rugby Board’s support.
It comes after over a dozen rugby clubs across Scotland reported positive coronavirus cases in recent weeks, resulting in facilities being temporarily closed and deep cleaned, training sessions postponed and public health guidance on self-isolation being followed by those affected.
There has been an inevitability about the initial 31st October restart target date not being viable since Covid cases started to rise last month. Earlier this week, the Scottish Government announced a pause in all outdoor contact sport for over 18s, with the exception of professional sport, until Sunday 25th October across five regional health boards, and Holyrood had previously delayed moving to Phase 4 of its COVID-19 recovery Route Map until at least 15th October.
Recent government restrictions also limit the ability of clubs to travel to games with car sharing not permitted and private hire buses only able to operate at 50 percent capacity, alongside how changing/shower rooms can be used safely in club houses.
Clubs based in the five central belt regions who have come under stricter government restrictions will now drop back to Stage Two of Scottish Rugby’s Return to Rugby Roadmap, meaning they are limited to individual training and no contact. Clubs in the remainder of Scotland remain at Stage Four, which means larger groups and modified contact.
To see Scottish Rugby’s Return to Rugby Roadmap click HERE.
While the Scottish Football Association have categorised the Scottish Professional Football League, Highland League, Lowland League, SWF PL 1 & 2, West of Scotland Leagues, East of Scotland Leagues, South of Scotland League, North Caledonian League and SJFA Leagues as exempted from the Scottish Government’s recent restrictions on the basis that they are professional competitions, Scottish Rugby has ruled that the FOSROC Super6 Sprint Series will now not take place, and the teams involved will now work towards a full fixture card in the Spring of 2021.
This is on the basis that the teams in Super6 are not standalone entities but part of wider, predominantly amateur clubs.
“Scottish Rugby remains fully committed to supporting the six franchises, their part-time professional players and staff,” said a statement issued by Murrayfield.
The Scotland Women national team will not be affected by this decision ahead of their three outstanding Six Nations matches because they have an ‘elite exemption’.
Scottish Rugby President Ian Barr said that while the situation is hugely disappointing for both clubs and players who want to see the game back up and running as soon as possible for both social and economic reasons, he urged those impacted to take a longer-term view.
“After much careful consideration and following a detailed briefing by colleagues in Rugby Development, our Chief Medical Officer and the updates from Scottish Rugby’s Threat Management Group, we took the difficult decision as a Council to recommend delaying the start of competitive rugby until January 2021, which the Board then fully supported,” he said.
“We know many clubs and schools were preparing well and looking forward to resuming competitive matches, often against their local rivals due to the proposed regional fixtures, but we must put the safety of our players, volunteers and their local communities first.
“With Covid numbers rising nationally we must act responsibility in the communities where our clubs and schools play, and secondly this delay gives us all time to take stock and contribute to helping lower the infection rates, which can hopefully enable us to return to rugby fully at the right time.”
The Scottish Rugby statement added: “A delay to the start of the competitive season until January 2021 equates to a circa 10-week (minimum) period which would, hopefully, provide time for the infection rate in society to fall.
“Confirmation that competitive rugby will not be played during this period seeks to provide certainty to clubs, schools and volunteers in the months ahead if wider government restrictions are implemented.”