THE IRISH RUGBY FOOTBALL UNION have taken the proactive step of abandoning their domestic season with immediate effect in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
A directive issued yesterday [Thursday], which applies to all incomplete national and provincial competitions, decrees that –
- There will be no promotion or relegation in any of the five divisions of the Energia Men’s All-Ireland League.
- The planned expansion of the Energia Women’s All-Ireland League for the 2020-21 season remains in place.
- Cups will be shared by finalists where the competition has reached the final fixture.
“The decision to end the domestic rugby season for 2019-2020 season has not been made lightly,” said IRFU Director of Rugby Development Colin McEntee. “All options were discussed and the IRFU is satisfied it has arrived at the only equitable solution
“These are challenging times for us all and we know clubs will be impacted by this directive, but we will look back at this season as one where we put the physical welfare of our rugby community above all else.
“Clubs are now in a position to make plans for the 2020-21 season. We look forward to marking the 30th anniversary of the All-Ireland League.”
There has not been a decision in Scotland yet on how to deal with the likelihood of there being no domestic rugby played until late summer at best. A similar response to the IRFU would be a big boost to clubs such as Edinburgh Accies (who were on the precipice of relegation from the Premiership) and Dundee High (who were already condemned to relegation out of National One), while it would be a kick in the teeth to the likes of Biggar (the runaway leaders of National One who had already secured promotion into the Premiership) and Stewart’s Melville (who were looking good for promotion from National Two into National One).
An argument could be made that the leagues should be organised next year based on league placings at the time when matches were suspended, but clubs such as Peebles would have a fairly strong argument that this approach would be contrary to the spirit of a competitive league because while they were third in National Two at the time the suspension kicked in, they had the same number of league points as second placed Dumfries Saints and a game in hand.
An alternative solution would be to promote Biggar from National One and relegate Dundee High from the same league as the only two teams in the National Leagues whose fates were already mathematically sealed by the time the suspension was put in place last Friday. That would make the Premiership as an 11 team competition next season, which would not be ideal but would certainly be manageable, with one team getting a rest weekend in every round of matches. National One would be a 10 team league, just as the Premiership is at the moment. But National Two being a 13 team competition could be problematic in terms of getting through a full fixture schedule.
A fourth option, would be to try and play out the remaining matches before commencing the next season, but that doesn’t really seem feasible. It would leave clubs in a state of limbo for several months, and would almost certainly create significant logistical and scheduling challenges when rugby does finally resume at a point which is impossible to predict at the moment.
Similar scenarios exist in the men’s Regional Leagues, while the women’s season structure is slightly different with the league section completed before Christmas.