The Champions Trophy, Schools Cup competitions, and ACE League have all been cancelled for the 2020/21 season as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite the positive news that as of Tuesday 1st September community rugby has moved from Stage C to Stage D on the Return to Community Rugby Roadmap, allowing for non-contact fixtures and limited contact training, the final stage on the roadmap, Stage F, will likely not be reached before the 18th October as the move from Stage E to Stage F is said to require 4 weeks to allow players to become contact ready.
That moves the return to school rugby into Playing Window 3, which means a cancellation of national competitions and an extension of the Age-Grade season through to the 31st May.
It therefore means that the school season will look even more unusual than previously assumed, not least for ACE Colleges whose major artery of their season has been cancelled.
For schools on the regular circuit the absence of the Champions Trophy at U18 level and the Schools Cup, Plate, Vase, and Bowl at both U18 and U15 level will change the landscape of the season, with most of the most famous schoolboy titles now unavailable for the 2020/21 season.
The hope must therefore be from here, once it is safe and rugby is back up and running in full, that a degree of creativity and latitude within the normal regulations surrounding the Age-Grade rugby calendar and that small one-off competitions may require less non-Covid related red tape in order to go ahead.
It has also been confirmed that the RFU will not give permission for any contact tours (including single games) in any other countries including Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and that they will rescind permissions previously granted, this is likely to be the case for the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, too.
The news of the cancellations of the competitions was not unexpected, however it will still come as a blow to a huge number of schools who had been hoping that the 18th October cut-off might be met.
Still going ahead at this stage are the St Joseph’s Festival, which has moved from October to February, the Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s, and a number of other 7s tournaments.
With the season extended to the 31st May decisions now start to move towards schools as they decide whether to switch up their sporting calendars to allow as much rugby as possible to be played in that period from January-May that is, for the majority, normally a non-rugby period bar 7s.
A number see it as an opportunity for creative thinking, one Director of Rugby commenting that “with such an unusual set of circumstances there is an opportunity for the school game to think about the direction it has been moving in and react collectively with some fresh ideas.”