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SA Rugby return to non-contact training

Ruhan Nel scored a try after the hooter to stun the Lions in Johannesburg.
Ruhan Nel scored a try after the hooter to stun the Lions in Johannesburg.
Image: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Having returned only 11 asymptomatic positive cases from 383 tests SA Rugby feels the environment they have created is safe enough to give the professional teams under their aegis the green light to return to non-contact training on Monday.

“The confirmation followed several weeks of preparation and consultation with government‚ all provincial unions to ensure compliance with regulation and to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection‚” SA Rugby said in a statement.

Eight teams will resume training with a view to competing in domestic competitions that are being modelled by SA Rugby and member unions to be accommodated into the remainder of the year.

The eight teams are: the Bulls‚ the Lions‚ the Sharks‚ the Stormers‚ Southern Kings‚ the Cheetahs‚ Griquas and the Pumas. Due to the economic impact of the pandemic on the sport‚ the remaining professional teams will remain in lockdown.

They have had 11 positive asymptomatic cases from five unions including Western Province and the Lions.

“SA Rugby have stressed to the playing community that while we can put interventions in place at training to mitigate the risk of the transmission of the virus‚ we do rely on the players and management to keep their social bubbles small and to strictly adhere to the government's rules and guidelines of social distancing and hygiene when they get home‚” said SA Rugby’s head of medical Clint Readnead.

In the statement SA Rugby said that they continued to work with all stakeholders on the prospects of a return to play for the Springboks at some point this year.

“This is an important first step back to playing‚ and we have taken it carefully to ensure full compliance and having thoroughly interrogated the regulations with government‚” said Jurie Roux‚ SA Rugby Chief executive.

“Contact training will not be permitted for the moment but the players will be allowed back onto the field with a rugby ball and back into the gym – while observing strict protocols in both areas – which comes as a great relief to the sport.”

Roux said that all players and management teams were being screened before Monday’s return and that training venues had been prepared to conform to the new protocols.

Several competition formats with various start dates featuring eight teams had been modelled for the return to competitive play‚ as it was highly unlikely that air corridors would be opened to allow international travel.

Roux said the only teams expected to appear in 2020 were the eight professional teams and those that fielded under-21 teams. All other competitions as well as club rugby were cancelled.

“The risk associated with a mass return to train and play has been highlighted by government and the timelines and practicalities are such that it is unrealistic that there will be a general return to play this year‚” said Roux.

“Therefore the members of the CovCom [the standing committee of member unions and experts which has been managing rugby’s response to the pandemic] opted to formally confirm that the only rugby to take place under their jurisdiction this year would feature the eight senior teams.”

Roux added that schools’ rugby did not fall under SA Rugby’s jurisdiction and any decisions in that regard would be handled by the Department of Basic Education.