Irish Rugby Chief Executive Philip Browne is confident that differing plans to emerge from lockdown will not hinder Ulster's involvement in resuming the PRO14 in August.
The PRO14 has been suspended since March, with Ulster last having played on February 22, but the IRFU yesterday confirmed pending government approval the mooted proposal that would see the league start up again with a series of behind-closed-door interpros in the Aviva Stadium, the first of which would take place on August 22.
That date is in line with the government target in the Republic of Ireland that would see sports such as rugby cleared to return on August 10. Stormont in contrast placed no timetable on its own step-by-step proposal for the easing of restrictions.
It had been floated that Ulster could potentially decamp across the border to train for the games but Browne does not feel the two jurisdictions under his union's umbrella differ greatly.
"I'd be pretty confident if our protocols are accepted that we can have alignment between the north and the south," he said.
Browne added that travel would not be restricted in the same way for sports as is likely for the general public.
“As it is between the phasing to return, the only major difference is the aspirational dates put on the phases by the government in Dublin while in Belfast they’ve taken the view that they wouldn’t put dates on. By and large there’s already a degree of alignment,” he said.
“In a highly controlled environment where you have medical expertise and technical expertise and resources, you can differentiate between that and the general population.
“We’ve been working very closely with (Ulster CEO) Jonny Petrie and all the return to play and return to training protocols have effectively been adapted to meet the guidelines and regulations in Ulster.”
Ulster players and the majority of staff remain on the UK government’s job retention furlough scheme with the timetable for them to return to work dependent on the resumption of competitive rugby. With six weeks of ‘pre-season’ required, provincial squads would likely be back on the training paddock in early to mid-July.
While Browne offered these plans as a “not just rugby fixtures, they are a beacon of hope”, he did not shy away from the huge financial implications of the coronavirus for the union.
Yesterday’s deal with CVC for a stake in the PRO14 will yield £30million over three years including £5million up front but the IRFU would stand to lose up to almost £18million should this year’s postponed Six Nations not be completed and the autumn internationals also have to be cancelled.