What does rugby’s return actually mean

SA Rugby has been given the green light for this country’s professional players to return to contact training and to host matches in a safe, controlled environment, but what does this all mean? Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen tells you here everything you need to know about rugby’s return-to-play.

Where we stand

  • The government has given the go-ahead for SA Rugby to put on matches in a safe, controlled “bio-bubble” environment; possibly ruling out the option of teams travelling across the country to play matches.
  • Matches will have to be played in empty stadiums, meaning no fans will be allowed in.
  • Only essential services individuals necessary to stage the matches will be allowed inside the stadiums; that is stadium staff, medical personnel, team-specific individuals, and possibly television and broadcast workers.
  • Eight teams have been earmarked to play in a domestic competition from early to mid-September: the four Super Rugby sides, the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers; the two Pro 14 teams, the Cheetahs and Kings; and the Griquas and the Pumas.

What we don’t know

  • Will it be a competition played in one venue, or two venues? Bloemfontein and Nelspruit are known to be interested in hosting the so-called bio-bubble.
  • How much time from now will be required before the players will feel confident and match-ready? Most coaches have said the players need six weeks of contact training before they’d feel confident pushing them into action in a match.
  • Will the competition be split in two, with the four Super Rugby sides up against each other, and the four others against each other?
  • Will all the teams then face each other at a later stage, in a second round, if there is to be a second round? The Springbok players are expected to be withdrawn from the domestic competition in some time in October to prepare for a Rugby Championship in New Zealand.
  • Does the go-ahead by the government mean the players can start making full contact from today?
  • What measures and protocols will be put in place to ensure the safety of the players and coaches to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus?
  • How often will players and staff be tested for Covid-19 and who’ll pick up these costs? In England recently, Premiership players and staff were tested twice a week.

Questions that remain

  • While most of the players will be keen to return to action, what about those players who aren’t comfortable with taking and making contact? Will their safety fears and concerns be taken into account and will they be excused from contact training and actual matches, without being judged or negatively affected?
  • How big will playing squads be? And, will there be subtle changes to match-day and game specifics, like the numbers of replacements allowed?
  • What will happen to a squad if a player or players test positive for Covid-19? Who will be required and expected to self-isolate or quarantine if a player tests positive?

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