Winter is drawing in, the hurling, football and camogie are almost done for the (late) year and won’t likely return until (late) spring – but where are we when it comes to rugby?
Normally at this time of the year, we’d be at the midway stage of the Leinster League – Kilkenny, Carlow, Tullow and club sides around the country doing their thing.
After Christmas, we would be looking forward to local sides getting stuck into the Provincial Towns Cup, where league form matters not and legends are made in the domestic game.
Pretty much everything rugby-wise this year has been upended by Covid-19, so let’s late a look at where we are before the door closes on 2020.
2019/20 went ‘bye bye’, 2020/21 would follow
Once the country went into lockdown for the first time this past March, that was it for the IRFU.
An email to clubs sent after St. Patrick’s week outlined that the 2019/20 domestic season would conclude with immediate effect. No promotion, no relegation, just hitting the breaks on all competitions and competitive fixtures.
For the 2020/21 season, it’s a bit of a redo – but at least we’ve had a game or two.
Kilkenny saw victory on their first and only game of the new season on 3 October. While Bective Rangers saw off Seapoint in Donnybrook in Division 1A 27-16, at the same time on that day, Kilkenny would leave Foukstown 12-7 victors over Ashbourne.
The opening day of this season also threw up the Carlow derby as Tullow travelled to Oak Park, and came away with a scalp. With five tries in the bag, they picked up a bonus-point win on day one with a 31-19 finish. Also in Division 1B, Boyne travelled to Mullingar and left with a 30-20 victory.
Alas, that’s all she wrote.
Covid kicked in for the second wave, the country goes into six weeks of Level 5 restrictions, and rugby shuts down as a result.
So what happens in level three?
Under level three, there’s not a lot happening in terms of club rugby.
As per the IRFU guidelines for living with Covid-19, with regards to rugby clubs and schools, under level three there are
- No matches
- No shower or changing facilities
- No spectators. Parents/guardians attending in a supervisory capacity are not classified as spectators.
Training is permitted, non-contact only, outdoors in pods of up to 15. For the majority of clubs, that means that ‘minis’ have been reinstated, schools programmes can continue, but you’re far from seeing a competitive fixture.
Should Ireland return to Level 4 after Christmas, the same restrictions apply. At Level 5, training will be reduced to individual training with exceptions for school-aged children who may continue outdoors in pods of up to 15.
It is noted, however, that tag rugby and touch rugby are classes as non-contact sports.
When will club rugby start again?
Until Ireland moves into Level 2 restrictions, or Level 3 restrictions are amended to allow contact sports and training, we may not see the return to club rugby for a while yet.
Under Level 2 Covid-19 restrictions, again per the IRFU guidelines for living with Covid-19
- Contact training in pods up to 15 would be permitted
- Matches are permitted
- Shower and changing facilities are TBC
- Up to 100 spectators would be admitted, subject to social distancing
With all that said, it means the Leinster League and Provincial Towns Cup, inter-schools competitions and more are firmly on hold.
Only this week we saw a medal presentation to Blackrock College in Dublin, declared joint winners of the Leinster Rugby Schools Junior Cup. The cup was shared between Blackrock and Newbridge as both clubs had reached the final albeit the fixture was scrapped in March.
Nine months on, they’ve still not played a game.
There’s nothing to say the domestic season won’t resume, much like the Premier League or GAA, and run late into 2021. But, in a week that has seen the FAI cancel their underage season, it may be another few months before we see a proper return to club rugby around the country.