Christmas Comes Early with the Return of Community Rugby
Online Sports Editor Elise Hamersley takes a look at the RFU’s recent announcement regarding the upcoming return of community rugby and law variations.
After nearly 9 months of slow, staged return, the RFU recently announced the restart of 15-a-side community rugby from the 18th of December. Following Government approval, grassroots rugby will be going ahead from this date with adapted rules and law variations.
Since the end of the first national lockdown, clubs have been following the ‘Return to Community Rugby Roadmap’. These stages can be summarised as:
Stage A: Individual training with one other person
Stage B: Small group training (6 people max)
Stage C: Non-contact training and intra-club matches
Stage D: Adapted contact training and non-contact fixtures
Stage E: Adapted contact fixtures
Stage F: Return to match prep and playing.
Lockdown 2.0 reversed this progress: with effect from the 5thNovember, community rugby returned to Stage A on the roadmap meaning “no competitive or formal rugby activities can be undertaken until Wednesday 2ndDecember”.
With the return of the men’s professional game in the summer, the women’s Allianz Premier 15s in October, and most recently international rugby, grassroots clubs and players will finally be able to join to party by resuming fixtures this Christmas.
The importance of the return to community rugby cannot be understated. While it was necessary and easier to manage the earlier recommencement of the professional game, there is no doubt that the return of community sport is long overdue and will serve as a relief for many who benefit from the activity and social aspects of the game.
The intense discussion surrounding the government’s mishandling of mental health during lockdown, and the pandemic in general, rages on, and rugby is not excluded from this discourse. The toll of Covid-19 on grassroots level sport has more ramifications than simply lost fixtures. Local rugby benefits the community and the individual. It provides an escape, a form of exercise, and a supportive social group for many. It is essential for the development of young people and adults to resume competitive play.
However, the return of community rugby on the 18thof December will featured several law variations. These local friendly fixtures will see the following differences, as laid out by the RFU:
These changes have been put in place after research conducted to reduce the amount of face-to-face contact and avoid the risk of transmitting Covid-19.
The lack of scrums and mauls combined with the increased use of free kicks will undoubtedly created a more fast-paced game. We have already seen this pace increase through the adapted rules of the women’s Allianz Premier 15s, with play seeing a reduction of scrums by over 75%. It will be interesting to see how the more recreational community sides will contend with the changed nature of the game.
Enormous thanks must be given to the numerous coaches, volunteers and organisers up and down the country for following the set guidelines of staged return. Much of grassroots rugby relies on these, often unpaid, participants and they have had to contend with an unprecedented amount of risk-assessment and planning in order to facilitate return to play.
In further exciting news, university rugby is set to restart in February 2021. While the women’s game will be returning with similar adapted rules to that of community rugby, the RFU and BUCS are yet to confirm if the men’s fixtures will follow suit.