Professional rugby union clubs have been given permission to start their return to training process in what is the biggest step yet towards the resumption of the 2019/20 season.
The Premiership has been put on hold in England since March following the coronavirus outbreak, with every other league and cup competition below the top tier ended using a points-per-game formula.
However, the Premiership remain determined to complete the 2019/20 campaign even though Saracens have already been relegated due to the salary cap scandal, and the Professional Game Board announced on Tuesday that clubs can now begin the process of returning to training as long as they meet a series of criteria set by the Rugby Football Union.
Chris Booy, Professional Game Board Chair said: “I can confirm that the Professional Game Board which incorporates representatives of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) Premiership Rugby, Rugby Players Association (RPA) and Championship Clubs has given provisional authorisation for Premiership and Championship Rugby clubs to move to Stage 1: Elite Sport Return to Training Guidance.
"The clubs will need to satisfy a number of requirements to start Stage 1 as we continue the huge amount of work being undertaken to enable a safe return to training.
"The welfare of the players, management and staff is our only priority, and we look forward to the season resuming when it is safe to do so."
Laid out by the UK government, the stage one restrictions allow players to take part in conditioning training either individually or in small groups, where strict social distancing measures can be maintained at all times. It means that training grounds will have certain areas, such as showers and changing rooms, closed until further notice, with players expected to arrive in their kit or change in their car.
Players also face daily health checks for Covid-19 symptoms along with a temperature test in order to gain access to the training facilities.
In order to return to training, each club will need to provide a written declaration to both Premiership Rugby and the RFU that:
- All players and support staff must undertake an Education Module which will inform a formal "opt in" process for return to training.
- Confirmation of the appointment of both a Covid-19 manager and Covid-19 medical lead.
- Clear guidance regarding cleaning and hygiene standards for training facilities.
- The provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) appropriate for the setting.
- Confirmation of a daily medical screening for players and support staff, which involves the completion of a symptom checklist and temperature check before entering the training facility.
The Professional Game Board have not set a date for incremental moves to steps two and three, which will allow larger clustered training sessions and the eventual return to contact. Due to the physical nature of the sport, rugby union currently faces being one of the last sports to return to action under the government’s current coronavirus guidelines.
The development came on the same day as the 13 Premiership stakeholders voted unanimously to support the 52 salary cap recommendations made in the recent Myners report, which followed the handling of the Saracens scandal and their automatic relegation to the Championship next season.
Former government minister Lord Myners last month called for widespread changes and reviews to the current Premiership salary cap, which was brought into regulation 21 years ago as the sport continued to move into the professional era. All 13 clubs - which includes the 12 Premiership outfits and promoted Championship side Newcastle Falcons - will now enter a period of developing the recommendations into measures that can be put in place from the start of next season, with both the RFU and RPA due to be part of those negotiations.
“It's a credit to our clubs that they have acted so quickly to support these recommendations and take the Premiership Rugby salary cap into a new era,” said Premiership chief executive Darren Childs. “We want to create the gold standard for delivering sporting integrity, financial viability and competitive balance.
"The next stage is for us to consult with our clubs, RFU and RPA and to enshrine these new regulations for the start of the 2020-21 season, which will be created for the long-term benefit of our sport.”
The measures will include a review of the salary cap exemption, which allows two marquee players to fall outside of the £7m-a-season restriction that is currently in place, as well as how alleged breaches are investigated and published, and how any proven breaches are punished.