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Rugby holding fire as officials weigh up options for a restart

 

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Waiting game: James Hume is tackled by Chris Massyn of Toyota Cheetahs in Ulster’s last Pro14 clash in February

Waiting game: James Hume is tackled by Chris Massyn of Toyota Cheetahs in Ulster’s last Pro14 clash in February

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

James Cronin

James Cronin

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Waiting game: James Hume is tackled by Chris Massyn of Toyota Cheetahs in Ulster’s last Pro14 clash in February

Players in Ireland remain in the dark about when rugby will resume as the sport continues to grapple with the logistical challenge of returning to play.

The plan to return to squad training next Monday looks unlikely and the IRFU are to update the professional squads this week as to their next steps as they continue to consider the impli­cations of the Government's roadmap for easing its Covid-19 restrictions and World Rugby's guidelines for resum­ing play.

Rugby is listed as part of stage five of the Irish Government's roadmap and, according to its current schedule, that means the sport can be played again on August 10.

However, Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Public Health Emer­gency Team gave a far more down-beat assessment, saying international rugby is unlikely to be played in 2020.

That puts the Guinness PRO14 in a difficult position as it works to find on-field solutions to finishing the sea­son.

Organisers are resigned to the idea they will not be able to play all eight remaining rounds and a full play-off schedule, but they still hope to host play-offs and a final and settle the European places in the fairest way pos­sible having rejected the idea that they will hand Leinster the title and call off the season.

Reports in Wales suggest the league wants to play two rounds of national derbies in August, before a curtailed play-offs would see semi-finals and a final take place in September.

The Heineken Champions Cup knockouts would also take place that month, with the final in October.

However, while a number of scenar­ios have been discussed it is under­stood that the competition is waiting on further government advice before taking a firm decision.

And it looks highly unlikely that all matches will be staged in one country despite a report stating that all teams would relocate to Ireland to form "a bubble" and play all remaining fixtures here. This has been investigated as a possibility, but looks too challenging to pull off.

Rugby administrators are desperate to get back to action because of the increasingly challenging financial sit­uation brought about by the current stoppage.

It is now 10 weeks since the last match involving an Irish team and the IRFU and provinces have lost a sub­stantial amount of revenue as a result of postponements.

The July tour of Australia is expected to be cancelled in the coming weeks, while the November fixtures against South Africa, Australia and Japan are in real danger.

No date has been set for the post­poned Six Nations games against Italy and France.

The French Top 14 took the decision to abandon their season, but the PRO14 and English Premiership want to find a way of finishing.

If a cross-border solution cannot be found, then the IRFU could look at hosting a series of interprovincial fix­tures behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium when it is deemed safe to do so.

Players will need around a month of pre-season training to prepare for matches once it is declared safe to train and play collectively.

Meanwhile, Sport Ireland are still considering whether to appeal the one-month ban handed down to Munster's James Cronin as a result of his positive test for a banned corticosteroid having asked EPCR for the full case file.

Belfast Telegraph