Club rugby’s restart is at the mercy of Government’s announcement

New SRU president Ian Barr admits there is a ‘nervousness’ around the game
It is hoped that club rugby can resume on 31 October. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNSIt is hoped that club rugby can resume on 31 October. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS
It is hoped that club rugby can resume on 31 October. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS

Scottish Rugby Union president Ian Barr has admitted that getting club rugby back up and running on 31 October is a hope rather than an expectation given the current worsening of the coronavirus situation in the country.

The union has spent the summer coming up with a “road map” for the domestic game. The 2019-20 season was formally suspended with no promotion or relegation and the plan for the new campaign is to play regional competitions through the winter into spring.

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Barr said the SRU was now awaiting the update on Scottish Government guidance on Thursday for clarification of the sport’s situation as Covid-19 cases increase across the country and local restrictions are imposed.

Scottish Rugby Union president Ian Barr. Picture: SNSNew 
Scottish Rugby Union president Ian Barr. Picture: SNS
New Scottish Rugby Union president Ian Barr. Picture: SNS

“We’re hopeful we are going to kick-start on 31 October but at the moment we are very unsure,” said Barr, a member of Lasswade RFC, who succeeded Dee Bradbury to become the union’s 128th president in the summer.

“There will be word from the Scottish Government later this week and we really are at the mercy of forces outwith our control.

“I am comfortable that Council, club forums and the Rugby Development department [headed by Sheila Begbie] have all worked really hard to come up with something that is workable and can get clubs back playing rugby as soon as possible.”

The new formats have been sketched out with confirmation of who will play who to come after that Government update and fixtures to be released no later than 16 September. Teams from the top three Tennent’s Premiership, National 1 and 2 will be split into two competitions with three finals at a later stage in the season. The Women’s Premiership and National 1 will also be split into two with finals.

Men’s regional leagues will be split into even more localised, new bubble competitions.

All clubs will have designated Covid Safety Co-ordinators and be reliant on normal NHS and health systems for testing.

Barr accepted that the concerning upsurge in virus cases, with younger people identified as being at the heart of the spike, has led to a wobble in that hope that restart will come on 31 October.

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“It would be wrong to say we’re not nervous about it. Of course we are,” said Barr. “I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that this is going to be easy. We are seeing local outbreaks where some clubs maybe are able to play rugby and some might not be.

“At the same time we’ve got to be as positive as we can be. We really did need to set a date we thought was achievable to kickstart rugby. Clubs were expecting that too to have something to aim for.

“We just don’t know. We’ve got to just do our best and prepare for it. If we have to curtail the season I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that might come.”

Barr said the hope was that a more regionalised structure would allow any area that is affected by a serious outbreak could be isolated and shutdown while the rest of the structure continues.

“That’s something we have been looking at all the way through. We have tried to regionalise as much as possible to try and avoid that type of situation,” said the president.

“With clubs that are so geographically spread it’s hard for them all to be playing in that regional bubble. That’s a real problem and why we’ve had championship committee people involved.

“We’re trying to help clubs get as many games as they can and at the same time we’re aware of the fact some clubs may not be able to travel if they’re in a lockdown area.

“Some clubs maybe are a wee bit nervous about travelling, young players who don’t want to travel, older players who are concerned if people are shielding. So we’re trying to be as flexible as we possibly can. We just need to deal with that.”

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Barr said the strong desire is that this makeshift structure will be a one-off and a national club competition can return as it left off in March for the 2021-22 season.

“Once they get things up and running a lot of clubs are keen to revert to the structures that they had in the past - and I can understand that,” said Barr. “Clubs want to be competitive; clubs want to play at the highest level they possibly can.

“But what we did, we spoke to everybody all the way, and we’ve applied this hybrid model. We have a real issue with the geography of Scotland, so we can’t get everybody playing within a very tight radius, but we have tried to be as consistent as possible and apply the same principles from the lowest leagues right the way through.

“Yeah, one or two people might not be happy, but I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve all worked together to come up with something which is consistent, which is as fair as we can possibly come up with.

“It’s so fragile, that the main thing is just to get a couple of games of rugby under our belt. Clubs were asking us to come up with some sort of structure, so we’ve taken the bull by the horns and helped them over that final hurdle. The vast majority of people I’ve spoken to are very happy with what we’ve done.”

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