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Irish professional rugby breathes brief sigh of relief as show limps on for now

International, provincial, and elite amateur club rugby can continue under the IRFU’s guidelines.

THE FEAR BROUGHT about by news of NPHET’s recommendation on Sunday night extended into every business in the country, including professional rugby.

Internally, the IRFU remained confident that the government would not accept the recommendation to move to Level 5 but outside the union, there were instant worries about the possibility of pro rugby shuddering to a halt just over six weeks on from its restart.

There are, of course, many things more important than rugby but the sport is facing severe financial challenges already due to the absence of crowds at matches – the main source of income for the professional game.

The prospect of professional games being prohibited once again, which Level 5 involves, would have meant a huge blow to rugby and many other businesses.

With the government instead opting to bring the entire country to Level 3 for three weeks at least, professional rugby can instead limp on, continuing to deliver a TV product that maintains one source of income.

a-view-of-the-aviva-stadium-before-the-game The Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, the government’s Level 3 guidelines mean matches must be behind closed doors.

So any hopes that the IRFU would be able to welcome a decent crowd into the Aviva Stadium for the start of the upcoming autumn Tests have ended and the union’s previous calls for government support are only likely to intensify as they burn through their cash reserves.

Level 3 guidelines mean that professional sports can continue so there will be no immediate disruption to this weekend’s Guinness Pro14 action – three of the four provinces are playing outside Ireland anyway – and Ireland’s 2020 Six Nations campaign can restart on 24 October with the visit of Italy to Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s national team also have home games in the new Autumn Nations Cup on 13 November, 29 November, and 5 December, with those fixtures set to go ahead as planned unless Ireland has moved to Level 5 in the meantime.

The recently kick-started Energia men’s and women’s Community Series competitions for elite-level amateur clubs are also set to continue under Level 3 guidelines.

According to the IRFU, any adult rugby teams whose progression can be linked to a national competition can continue to play under Level 3, meaning:

  • Energia men’s and women’s All-Ireland League matches [which aren't scheduled to start until January 2021]
  • Energia men’s and women’s Community Series matches [which have started over the last two weekends]
  • U20 Premier matches
  • Adult provincial qualifying league matches [second XVs of senior clubs are not exempt as they cannot progress in national competition].

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The fact that the recently-launched Community Series can proceed for the country’s top club sides is, of course, good news, but we have seen over the past two weekends how several fixtures in that schedule have fallen foul of Covid-19, with canceled games recorded as 0-0 draws and both clubs being awarded two match points apiece. 

niall-mceniff-congratulates-clontarf-players The Energia Community Series is set to continue under Level 3. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Unfortunately for amateur clubs around the country not on the list of exemptions above, matches will not be permitted over the next three weeks as things stand.

The IRFU’s guidelines on rugby under Level 3 can be read here

At the professional level, it’s understood the IRFU had a strong belief that NPHET’s recommendation would be rebuffed, although it must have been a nervy 24 hours for many in the game, as was the case for most people in every walk of life.

Asked about the uncertainty yesterday afternoon, Leinster and Ireland second row James Ryan indicated that he has been doing his best to focus on his job as his province prepares for this weekend’s Pro14 clash with Benetton in Italy.

“It will even feel weird getting on a plane again,” said Ryan yesterday.

“It’s a great opportunity to practise what’s in our own hands and being present. With all these distractions, it’s really important for us to focus on our prep in the days and the weeks ahead which can be hard at times but I think it’s vital we do that.

“It’s probably not too healthy to be checking the news every night, is it? I got myself in the habit in the first few months, probably like most people, checking the cases, how many cases are there, how many deaths, and I think you can kind of get yourself caught up in an unhealthy habit there.

“I think just having a bit of time to step away from it is important, while obviously playing your own part would be kind of my take on it anyway.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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