Members have been asking how close we are to seeing some competitive league rugby again – and regrettably the answer is that we still don’t know – but it will not be in September. This was made clear by RFU in a news release on 4 August. We still have the three “windows” which RFU published in July (start by 3 October, 28 November or 30 January, each with differing implications for the number of fixtures that will be scheduled) and we are promised that the next RFU announcement on return to league rugby will be on 1 September. As RFU have promised at least four weeks between full contact training and return to rugby, it is just about possible that we could still start in Window 1 on 3 October – but the odds on that are pretty long!
As a reminder, a start in Window 1 would allow a full season of 30 matches with the end of the season pushed back to end May; Window 2 would allow a hybrid season of 22 matches and Window 3 would effectively be half a season of 15 matches playing each other side once, either home or away.
The RFU have reissued their roadmap for return to rugby and removed some of the language in the first version which explicitly linked the playing of full contact rugby to the removal of all social distancing measures; this potentially gives greater flexibility as RFU continue their discussions with the government. At the same time, RFU have announced that we have moved from Stage B to Stage C, which allows for limited contact in training between teams of 10 rather than non-contact groups of 6. The updated roadmap is available at https://www.englandrugby.com/dxdam/3a/3a62def4-99e4-4e6a-a6b8-f4468c958e0b/RUGBY%20ROAD%20MAP%20VF.pdf
Given all the uncertainty, NCA have taken soundings from all 48 National League Clubs as to what should happen in the event that we do not start until January and can only play a maximum of 15 matches. There is a widespread view (which we share) that this would be an unfair basis to determine promotion and relegation; we have also stated that we do not wish to play matches simply as friendlies. A radical option which we have said we would support is to aggregate the outcomes of whatever matches are playable in 2020/21 season with a full schedule in 2021/22 and effectively have a 45 match season from January 2021 through to April 2022. This remains speculation at this stage but is offered as an indication of where the thinking of our organising body may be heading.
In the meantime, the players have started pre-season training under strict Covid-19 protocols. Numbers have been excellent with the new faces enjoying the standard of coaching and the old boys (Adam Howard, Reece Ward and even Chris Steel) glad to be back at the Avenue and looking forward to running out in the green shirt once again.