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Rugby clubs on standby for September return to action as IRFU look to tweak AIL

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Ballynahinch's Aaron Cairns on the charge against Dublin University earlier this season.

Ballynahinch's Aaron Cairns on the charge against Dublin University earlier this season.

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Ballynahinch's Aaron Cairns on the charge against Dublin University earlier this season.

The IRFU is targeting a September return for rugby clubs around Ireland and the union look set to re-model the Energia All Ireland League in an attempt to reduce costs for struggling operations.

Last season was cancelled when the government restrictions for the Covid-19 pandemic were introduced and many clubs have endured financial difficulty as a result of the lost income from the shut-down.

The IRFU has been working on a 'Roadmap' for clubs to return to action and today announced a 'Competition Stage' that earmarks the autumn for a return to action. The union has decided not to issue a specific date, pending further information from the government.

Clubs are currently in the 'Safety Planning Stage' which must be completed before they can return to training for five weeks before the campaign gets underway.

The season will be modified, with the governing body saying it "recognises concerns over travel, safety and expense and this will be reflected in the season’s structure. Clubs should expect that games at the start of the season will be kept local where practicable," in a statement issued today.

"This is another welcome step in our return to rugby," Greg Barrett, chair of the IRFU Rugby Committee said in the statement.

"There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes in clubs at present as they put Health & Safety plans in place to manage the risk of COVID-19. This announcement helps give us all something to work towards.

"It’s important for rugby players to have competitive sport to look forward to and they deserve to know that our return to rugby guidelines are built around their welfare.

"We will provide further clarity on what the 2020/21 season will look like, but what we can say is that the first matches permitted will keep travel to a minimum.

"This should help with concerns around travel, but our hope is that this will also serve as an opportunity for the rugby community to support their clubs and help generate some much needed cash-flow.

"For now, I would urge clubs to continue to focus on completing the COVID-19 Safety Planning Stage of our guidelines and availing of the education & training supports that the IRFU have put in place.

"That is ultimately what will lead to the resumption of rugby as we know it."

Belfast Telegraph