THE GUINNESS PRO14 tournament organisers have set a target date of Saturday 22nd August for the restart of the 2019-20 season, following the suspension of all action back in March in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
A condensed format to reach the conclusion of the season has been agreed which will involve two rounds of derby matches in each of the five territories involved – Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and South Africa – which will count towards final league positions, with the two teams which finish top of each conference qualifying for the play-offs consisting of two semi-finals leading into a Final on 12th September.
Edinburgh currently sit top of Conference B, two points ahead of Munster and 10 point ahead of Scarlets, meaning that they only need one bonus point from their two games to claim the second play-off slot (although they would presumably prefer to progress as top seeds).
Glasgow Warriors, meanwhile, are third in Conference A as it stands, and face an uphill battle to turnaround a nine point deficit from second placed Ulster, while top of the table Leinster are uncatchable.
Warriors managing director Nathan Bombrys expressed disappointment at his own team’s plight but had no complaints about the proposed solution to a difficult situation.
“The new abbreviated structure all but ends our chances for a place in the knock-out stages of the competition. With the squad we have and stellar rugby we play I truly believe we were on track to qualify and have a deep run into the play-offs,” he said.
“However, with the coronavirus pandemic we accept the position that we are all in was of no one’s making. We support the PRO14’s decision to conclude the season and we look forward to the challenge of two more 1872 Cup games against our rivals from Edinburgh. We can still influence the Guinness PRO14 Final Series, if not for ourselves, then for others.”
It has been agreed that rankings for European qualification for the 2020-21 season will be decided on the Conference table positions from Round 13. This will include the points awarded to teams whose postponed games in Round 13 have been deemed 0-0 draws. Once the competition formats for the 2020-21 season have been announced by EPCR then PRO14 Rugby will confirm its qualifying teams for the Heineken Champions Cup.
This means that unless there is a significant and unanticipated change of the format of the Champions Cup next season, both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors have already qualified for Europe.
“The top table of Europe is always something we want to be part of on a regular basis because that’s where the best and consistent teams play,” said Warriors head coach Richard Cockerill. “We’ve tasted a bit of success in the Champions Cup last season and qualification for next season’s competition means we’re once again dining with the big boys of European rugby.”
Play-off venues to be confirmed
Meanwhile, PRO14 Rugby stated that it will consider the latest information available in the territories where knock-out games could take place before making a final decision on the venue(s) for the play-off matches.
This solution means the regular season will be cut from 21 game rounds to 15. Games postponed prior to the indefinite suspension will be deemed 0-0 draws as previously stated by PRO14 Rugby on 28th February.
The postponed Round 13 fixtures (Zebre Rugby Club v Ospreys and Benetton Rugby v Ulster) have now been deemed 0-0 draws and all four teams will have two points added to their totals as a result.
Derby rounds in Italy, Scotland and South Africa will see the two teams from each territory play back-to-back fixtures. The derby fixtures for the teams in Ireland and Wales have yet to be confirmed and will be announced in line with kick-off times and broadcast selections.
The target date for bringing the league out of hibernation was agreed at the PRO14 Board meeting on Tuesday based upon the information currently available from each jurisdiction in which the Guinness PRO14 is played.
“With rigorous protocols outlined for training, game-day logistics and match play, PRO14 Rugby is confident that proposals submitted by our unions to governments across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa will allow our teams get back on the pitch,” said a statement issued by PRO14 at lunchtime today. “Discussions around these proposals will be on-going between each union and their respective governments.”
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season. We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.
“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense. Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”
Proposed Game Rounds:
Round 14: Saturday, August 22
Round 15: Saturday, August 29
Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5
Final: Saturday, September 12
“When venues across all five territories are agreed upon, consultations will begin with broadcast partners and all key stakeholders around suitable kick-off times,” explained the statement. “The respective unions involved in the Guinness PRO14 are in continued discussion with their relative authorities and governments regarding travel protocols and protective measures.
“An overview of all the health and safety protocols and protective measures that will be put in place to prevent and mitigate the threat of Covid-19 will be published in due course. At that time tournament representatives will be made available to the media.
2020-21 season start
Planning for the 2020-21 Guinness PRO14 season has begun, October 3 has been identified as the provisional date for Round 1.