School rugby will not return until January 2021 at the earliest after an announcement from the RFU on Thursday evening.
Following the government’s announcement of stricter rules to combat the COVID-19 pandemic earlier in the week, the RFU Governance Committee announced that with the exception of the Gallagher Premiership, Greene King IPA Championship, and the Premier 15s, there will be no rugby before January 2021 – and possibly beyond.
In a statement they said: “With the increased uncertainly caused by Government’s additional restrictions to curb the increase in Covid-19 cases across the country, the decision has been made so that we can provide clubs with some certainty over the next few months.”
“The rugby community can continue to organise non-contact fixtures with other clubs using Ready4Rugby and other touch rugby activity. Limited and restricted contact rugby training can also be continued.”
It is a hammer blow to the school game, albeit one that as not unexpected, and now pits the schools on an uneasy path forward after Christmas. Most have committed to not playing fifteen-a-side rugby after February half term to allow room for 7s and other sports (after all rugby is just one of the many sports that has been compromised), however at the senior end the academies look likely to be given priority over players for the bulk of that first half of term.
It means the very real possibility that for the top school players in the country there may be no school fifteen-a-side rugby at all this year – an unthinkable scenario if schools rugby as a whole is able to go ahead.
Conversations are still ongoing though, and as ever with the fall-out from the pandemic no decisions are yet final and there is certainly a concerted effort to try to find the best path through a devastatingly difficult situation.
There was some promise from the RFU in terms of their roadmap, the 7 step process on which we are currently at Stage D. In their statement they said:
“The RFU continues to be in active dialogue with government about moving to Stage E on the roadmap should we reach this point at any time before Christmas, competitive friendly matches could commence.”
“Age Grade Competitions Groups will be making recommendations to Governance on what they can do to ensure that any competitions from January are meaningful, including whether to make changes to the structured season.“
Hopefully, then, some light at the end of a long and dark tunnel for school rugby and the game as a whole.