Rugby: Contact rugby to return at grassroots level with new adaptations

Grassroots rugby union players will be able to play an adapted version of 15-a-side contact following the Rugby Football Union (RFU) announcement of the Government’s approval.

All rugby clubs playing below the level of the Greene King IPA Championship and Allianz Premier 15s can begin adapted training from December 2 and recommence friendly fixtures from December 18.

RFU Rugby development director Steve Grainger said: “We thank the Government for working with us to find a solution that enables the safe return of the community game.

“This is wonderful news for community clubs, their volunteers, players and supporters around the country, who can now look forward to playing contact rugby for the first time since March.”

Consultations between the RFU and the Government to resume rugby fixtures resulted in the implementation of new law variations which should limit the risk of prolonged face-to-face contact. 

The adaptations

  • No scrums or mauls – this is because they involve the close proximity of body contact for a sustained period of time.
  • Scrums are to be replaced with a free kick – a tap of the ball to restart a new phase of play.
  • A minimum of five and a maximum of seven players from each team are required to form a lineout.
  • At a penalty, teams will no longer be able to call for a scrum option but may still call for a lineout.

Local club support

Grainger said the RFU had received growing support from other clubs and players all in favour of the adaptations and law variations over the option of playing no rugby at all.

Local rugby club Old Emanuel RFC, based in New Malden, are looking forward to the changes with their players itching to get back into playing contact rugby. 

Old Emanuel RFC head coach Chris Dodd said: “We fully embrace it, fully endorse it and fully understand the implications that are around covid and around rugby, so any rugby we can play in any means, we’ve fully embraced and we’re really happy with the change.

“The work the RFU has done with the Government has been phenomenal to get us to this point.

“Any way that we can engage with our players more on a social and mental health side of it as well, that has been the biggest thing.”

Although the club has seen extremely strong turnouts at training and managed the playing side well, Dodd said the lack of fixtures caused by the pandemic had been a struggle.

“The hardest part has been revenue because a rugby clubs social space is a bar and selling food is huge for a Saturday and a Sunday at a rugby club and that is where the biggest impact has been,” he said.

Old Emanuels held their first adapted training session on Tuesday and are looking to organise games against local clubs for January 9 in order to give the coaches time to bring players back up to speed. 

“Because we are conscious of players not doing much pre-lockdown, we didn’t want to have two weeks and then go straight into a full-contact game, so we’ve organised one or two training sessions with other clubs to look at contact elements.”

What about other clubs?

The RFU stressed there is no obligation for players and clubs to play 15-a-side adaptations and that they can still play the Ready 4 Rugby touch fixtures if it is more amenable.

Despite the cancellation of adult competitive leagues announced on October 30, the National Club Association (NCA) is hoping to kick start a cup competition to begin in February.

This will be specifically for teams in national leagues one, two, north and south.

NCA chairman John Inverdale said: “The groups for the cup competition have all been done geographically, but only two of the groups have all of their clubs in Tiers One or Two.

“So you can’t expect a group which contains a high proportion of clubs in Tier Three to start their fixtures at the same time.”

The cup competition will be responsive to government guidelines, and although 90 per cent of clubs have expressed an interest in taking part, 40 per cent of clubs interested are still in tier three.

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