IRFU exploring possibility of Ulster training in Dundalk if restrictions ease

The northern province could be set for a short-term move if the IRFU pursue the idea.

THE IRFU IS set to explore the possibility of Ulster temporarily establishing a training base in Dundalk in the event that professional rugby teams in Ireland are allowed to resume some form of collective training in the coming months.

The42 understands that the IRFU is set to present a proposal to the Irish government with regard to reopening Leinster, Munster, and Connacht’s training facilities, with players training in small groups and with extreme attention being given to hygiene amidst the Covid-19 crisis. 

Ulster’s training base is located in Belfast in the UK, however, meaning that the IRFU are exploring the feasibility of moving the province to a temporary set-up in Dundalk, County Louth in order to allow them to operate under Irish government guidelines.

john-cooney-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle-with-louis-ludik-and-billy-burns Ulster could be set for a short-term move if restrictions in Ireland are eased [file photo]. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It remains unclear exactly how the proposal would work in terms of accommodation and specific training facilities, but it’s understood that the IRFU would present detailed plans to the government if the union decides to move forward with this particular option.

The hope from the IRFU’s point of view is to have players gradually return to organised training and begin building towards possible inter-provincial games in Ireland whenever rugby is formally allowed to return, almost certainly behind closed doors at first.

The rugby season is currently on hold due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with Munster, Leinster, and Connacht players working remotely as they train from home.

Ulster’s entire playing squad and the vast majority of the province’s other staff have been placed onto the UK’s furlough scheme since 1 April, meaning the British government is paying up to 80% of their wages.

The IRFU has confirmed that it is topping up player wages to the deferred levels agreed last month.

Ulster players would need to be taken off the furlough scheme to return to training.

“The IRFU and the provinces are looking at multiple options in relation to how and when we might return to training,” said an IRFU spokesperson when asked about the union exploring the possibility of Ulster training in Dundalk.

“Therefore, it would be inappropriate to engage in speculation, or to confirm or correct any rumours that may emerge until such time as we are in a position to confirm the process we will follow.”

While any plans for the four provinces to return to some level of collective training in the coming months are no certainty and will need government approval, the IRFU is attempting to plan for whatever scenario comes next.

Health experts have warned that contact sports like rugby could present an extra risk even if Covid-19 restrictions begin to be relaxed.

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It also remains unclear when crowds will be allowed to attend sporting events again.

On Tuesday, the Irish government announced that licences for events involving mass gatherings of over 5,000 people will not be issued until September at the earliest.

However, the IRFU has since been informed by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport [DTTAS] that this announcement does not directly relate to most sporting events.

The IRFU is now awaiting the next government update on Covid-19 restrictions, which is due on 5 May, before making any official announcements in relation to training or fixtures.

“We have received confirmation from the DTTAS that the statement concerning mass gatherings only applies to those events which require a licence (i.e. not most sports events),” an IRFU spokesperson told The42.

“We will continue to work with the department in relation to the advice for sporting events and I expect there will be an update on that in the coming weeks as we approach the 5th May.”

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