SA rugby finally gets green light for return to play

Jurie Roux (SARU CEO) during the South African launch of Guinness PRO14 at Southern Sun Cullinan on August 11, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Jurie Roux Jurie Roux (SARU CEO) during the South African launch of Guinness PRO14 at Southern Sun Cullinan on August 11, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

South Africa’s top rugby players have finally received the green light to resume competition.

They are expected to do so by mid-September subject to compliance with measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after Nathi Mthethwa‚ the Minister for Sports‚ Arts and Culture‚ gazetted legislation on Thursday.

The directions stipulate that contact training and matches can be played in empty stadiums‚ with only limited people allowed to attend games as part of essential services to make these events possible and from within a “bio-safe environment”.

It is believed that the number allowed in stadiums will be around 170 people including the players‚ match officials‚ medical and operational staff‚ broadcasters‚ and security.

“Since the start of this pandemic‚ we have been working hard at ensuring we get back on the field and we’ve kept the government informed on our plans throughout the process‚” said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux in a statement.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to move to the next phase of our return-to-play plans and will provide the department with all the necessary information required‚ such as venues for matches‚ to ensure a smooth transition to competitive rugby.

“Having said that‚ our eight franchise teams that returned to the training field recently still need a few more weeks of preparation before they will be ready for matches‚ and from SA Rugby’s side we will assist them with whatever is necessary.

“At this stage‚ we hope to have our first matches by early to mid-September and our plans on the structure of the planned competition will be announced in due course‚ as we have various options to consider‚” said Roux.

Super Rugby was suspended in the middle of March after the New Zealand government imposed travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus. The plug has since been pulled on the Super Rugby competition with Kiwi teams starting their own competition‚ with Australasia’s players following suit.

SA Rugby has already given the Bulls‚ Lions‚ Sharks‚ Stormers‚ Cheetahs‚ Southern Kings‚ Griquas and Pumas the thumbs up to start non-contact training. They are likely to contest a domestic competition.

A return to international competition is not permitted under the new regulations‚ but Roux said he understood the government’s need to phase in any return to normality.

“We know the World Rugby window for the Rugby Championship is only in November and December‚ so we’re hopeful that in due course the government will be in a position to further relax the restrictions‚” said Roux.

“For now‚ the most important thing is to ensure we get the action underway as we have many stakeholders‚ such as our broadcast partner‚ competition and team sponsors and our supporters‚ who are keen to see rugby again.”