"We want to see rugby back this year" - PRO14 confident of finishing season

The Guinness PRO14 remain confident of completing a season suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.  ...
Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

16.31 12 May 2020

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"We want to see rugby bac...

"We want to see rugby back this year" - PRO14 confident of finishing season

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Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

16.31 12 May 2020

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The Guinness PRO14 remain confident of completing a season suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The season has been on indefinite hold since March 19th, and the finals in Cardiff cancelled.

Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie has called for uneaten Leinster to be crowned this season's champions.


But PRO14 commercial director Dermot Rigley says plans are afoot for the league to resume this side of 2021.

"We've been working on scenario planning literally since we suspended", he told Sport For Business.

"We've obviously worked very closely with our broadcasters and our own sponsors on this.

"The Irish government gave some direction on this, for rugby to return in August.

"So obviously our unions are liaising with them [the Irish government] on how that impacts from an elite rugby perspective.

"The ambition is to get back this summer - without a shadow of a doubt  - and get the season concluded, and we are looking at modelling on how that would work.

"I would nearly ignore everything you're seeing in the press. There's a lot of information, a lot of headlines out there but the reality is we have to make sure it's right and safe for everybody involved.

"That's what we're working on, but we want to get back, and we want to get back when it's right.

"Hopefully we'll have some news on that in the coming week or so.

"We definitely need to try and get this season finished if we can."

Under the Irish government's Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business, rugby will be among the last sports to resume.

August 10th is the directive, but the IRFU have reportedly told players that they won't be able to train until June at the earliest.

"We've also got the added dilemma from a PRO14 perspective that we are multi-territory," Rigley added.

"So different governments make different decisions, and how that impacts on how we get a return to play."

"We do see rugby coming back this year"

Despite the fluidity of the situation and dealing in different territories, Rigley is confident of a return to play before the new year.

He says they've been, "Working with World Rugby, and working with the Chief Medical Officers across every union, and working with the health authorities in every territory to get this right.

"Yes, we do see rugby coming back this year.

"The Irish government gave a date of the 10th of August. We're working with them on when the elite game comes back. We're waiting on confirmation of that at the moment.

Rigley says the PRO14 have been paying attention to what the GAA have been saying regarding a return to play in a world of social distancing.

GAA president John Horan told the Sunday Game, "If social distancing is a priority to deal with this pandemic, I don't know how we can play a contact sport."

The GAA are also reluctant to re-enter stadiums closed to supporters, but Rigley suggests the PRO14 aren't as against the idea, "Social distancing - as long as that is as strict as it is now - obviously plays into how many people can get into a stadium.

"We're working on that, we're working on what numbers can get in from a safety perspective.

"We all know that this is a game of snakes and ladders. We want to make sure that we do things in the right time, which is as safe as possible for all involved.

"We want to make progress, and being in the business of major events we don't want to have that 'down the snake' potential as well by going too early."

"Everybody wants sport back"

As well as the GAA, Rigley says they'll be keeping tabs on how the resumption of the German Bundesliga goes from this weekend.

In their roadmap, the UK government don't require people travelling there from Ireland to isolate upon their arrival. However, the opposite is the case in Ireland.

Rigley's happy to see how things play out in the coming weeks, "I suppose we are in this unique position whereby there are other leagues already going early.

"The Bundesliga's starting to move... there's going to be a bit more clarity on elite sport in the next 48 hours from the UK.

"We also want to see what happens there as well, from our perspective, because we all want to get this right.

"The key thing is, everybody wants sport back - and that's not just [from a] commercial perspective, broadcast partners and sponsors.

"What we've all realised [is] how important sport is, for all of us - for our head, physically - and everybody wants it back in."

Behind closed doors

"We want to get it, and we want to get it right, so that could be a combination of initially behind closed doors, with limited crowds.

"Definitely we want to see rugby back this year, and that means finishing off this season and starting next season as well.

"But there's a lot of moving parts here. The great thing is, we have the benefit of time here - it's still early May.

"It's going quite well on the medical side in Italy, it's going quite well from an Irish perspective, and the UK are getting a handle on it as well. And South Africa's a little bit different.

"So we should know, hopefully, in the next few weeks... but definitely rugby in 2020 is our ambition without a shadow of a doubt."

Rigley concedes that they will need to gain more clarity on the movement of people over the course of the coming weeks.


He is also been outlining the practicalities of staging a match during a pandemic.

"We're working on clean venues," he told Rob Hartnett, "Testing is obviously the key point here and how quickly you can get results back.

"The modelling the tournament team have worked on - there's a 'bio-bubble' scenario where it's an absolutely clean venue or campus where no-one leaves or comes in after a while.

"Then you've obviously got how it looks then per stadium.

"There's lots of different scenarios getting looked at at the moment.

"You may have seen from the update from Boris Johnson and then latterly the UK government in terms of the lack of quarantine because of the common travel agreement between Ireland and the UK and that plays into it as well."

Rigley is happy to provide a glimmer of hope to action-starved rugby fans, but warns, "The key thing is protecting the players, protecting the fans, and protecting the production staff and match officials that are in there.

"But once we can get all of the criteria right, we want to get back as quick as possible."

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