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Coronavirus: Crisis forces Ulster Rugby players into stand down until May - at least



Ulster Rugby will not be back in training until May at the very earliest.

Ulster Rugby will not be back in training until May at the very earliest.

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Ulster Rugby will not be back in training until May at the very earliest.

As the sporting lockdown continues amid the Covid-19 outbreak, Ulster Rugby players have been told that they will train in isolation until May at the earliest.

With the PRO14 league suspended indefinitely and their Champions Cup quarter-final trip to Toulouse postponed, Dan McFarland's men have not played since February 22 and have no way of knowing when they'll next take the field.

They have been briefed already that due to the length of inactivity, something akin to a pre-season will be required before any action resumes.

League organisers confirmed as much when officially suspending the PRO14 last Thursday. At the same time, they also announced that the planned final in Cardiff on June 20 was cancelled.

Ulster's players, who have agreed to a pay deferral scheme to aid the financial burden on the IRFU, trained two Fridays ago for the last time before the game's governing body announced that the provinces were to go into shutdown.

Those who figured for Ireland in the Six Nations were due for a down week regardless, although naturally had any travel plans curtailed.

Now, players have been briefed to plan for a return to training in mid-May ahead of what would be a curtailed end to the season in July and August before another brief break and the start of the 2020-21 campaign in September.

Ireland's summer tour to Australia would be one spanner in the works, although that two-Test slate looks less likely to go ahead.

At this stage, of course, all such plans are merely conjecture and best-case scenarios with no sporting body able to accurately anticipate when the pandemic will subside and they can return to normality.

While players have had to improvise, many opting to set up makeshift gyms in their homes, Kingspan Stadium won't necessarily be empty.

CEO Jonny Petrie has offered the stadium to the Department of Health in an effort to help in any way they can during the pandemic.

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GAA HQ Croke Park has already been turned into a drive-through test clinic in Dublin and Petrie said Kingspan could be used in "any guise" deemed necessary.

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