IRFU confirms plans are in place for inter-pros at the Aviva in August

The games would take place behind closed doors on 22 and 23 August.

IRFU CEO PHILIP Browne has confirmed that plans are in place for inter-provincial games to be played behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium on 22 and 23 August.

Under the IRFU plans, the four provinces will feature in two games at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin without any fans present.

The fixtures will be part of the 2019/20 Guinness Pro14 season.

keith-earls-shakes-hands-with-johnny-sexton-after-the-game Munster and Leinster could play at the Aviva in August. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While outlining the plans, Browne warned that the IRFU is facing losses of €15 to €20million in revenues if the postponed 2020 Six Nations games and the November Tests are not played this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. If those fixtures are played behind closed doors, it would mean a loss of €10 to 15million.

There would be a €30million loss for the IRFU if the 2021 Six Nations cannot be played, or €16million if it is played behind closed doors.

The IRFU has submitted ‘Return to Train and Play’ proposals to the Irish government, indicating their target of resuming rugby with those Pro14 derby fixtures involving the four provinces in August.

Browne said players would need to return to training around six weeks before the planned fixtures in August, meaning the provinces would begin coming together to train in small groups from mid-July.

Browne said the IRFU has been working closely with Ulster and stressed that the union’s plans “have been adapted to meet the guidelines and regulations” in Northern Ireland.

The IRFU CEO also indicated that the Pro14 plans to hold semi-finals and a final, most likely in September, before the start of the new 2020/21 season at the beginning of October. The Champions Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals could potentially be played in September, with a final in October.

First, though, the IRFU hopes to see the return of inter-provincial fixtures on 22 and 23 August.

“In these times, these matches are not just rugby fixtures, they are a beacon of hope for the entire country,” said Browne on a video call this afternoon.

“We very much look forward to being able to play our part in delivering this much needed tonic for the country.”

Browne said the IRFU also hopes to see international rugby resuming this autumn, but admitted that there is still little certainty on that front.

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“What I can say is that we are proactively engaging with World Rugby and our fellow unions to work on a programme which will deliver international matches here sometime in October or November,” said Browne.

The IRFU CEO indicated that the hope is professional rugby players will be viewed differently to the general population when it comes to international travel. 

“There’s a general cohort of people coming into the country and you would have no idea of where they have been or who they have met,” said Browne.

philip-browne IRFU CEO Philip Browne. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“In sport, the general principle is that you would take your team, your squad, your management, and they would effectively be operating in a very different environment where there is regular testing and you understand how they are operating.

“We would be trying to make a distinction between a sport team taking part in a cross-border competition as opposed to a general traveller coming in and out of the country.”

Browne said the IRFU has looked at the possibility of professional players being brought into ‘bio bubbles’ and noted how they are used to operating in training camps.

“At the World Cup, our players are effectively in camp and in a highly-controlled environment. On a day-to-day basis, players in the provincial squads are in a very similar situation. They’re almost institutionalised to some extent, their day is mapped out for them.

“There would obviously have to be a greater discipline in what they do outside the training environment, but that’s not insurmountable. Players, by and large, will want to play and we have to show they can do so safely.”

Regarding the amateur domestic game in Ireland, Browne called on the Irish Government to lend its support amidst the financial challenges caused by the Covid-19 crisis. 70 clubs in Ireland have already applied for financial aid through the Club Continuity Support Fund, which was capped at €500,000.

“The level of financial loss being encountered by all sporting organisations is catastrophic and rugby is no exception,” said Browne.

“The IRFU will do what it can to lend support to clubs but there is only so far drastically depleted funds can stretch.

“It is not sensationalist to suggest that without government financial support sport will take a generation to get back on its feet, leaving an enormous void at the heart of communities throughout the land.

“I would call on government, who have done such a magnificent job in shepherding the country from the worst excesses of this pandemic over the past months, to fully recognise sports’ contribution and role as a core strand in the fabric of our society, and in turn provide the significant financial support all sports will need in the difficult transition from dormant isolation to vibrancy across their communities.” 

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