Grass-roots re­turn looms

RFU de­vel­op­ing ver­sion of the sport for grass-roots re­turn Early Au­gust tar­get date for adapted non-con­tact for­mat

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Gavin Mairs chief rugby cor­re­spon­dent

Com­mu­nity clubs could re­ceive the all-clear to re­turn to play early next month. The Rugby Foot­ball Union is ex­pected to com­plete Covid-19 ex­po­sure-risk anal­y­sis this week as a fi­nal step to gain­ing gov­ern­ment ap­proval.

Com­mu­nity clubs could be given the all-clear to re­turn to play early next month. The Rugby Foot­ball Union is due to com­plete Covid-19 ex­po­sure risk anal­y­sis this week as a fi­nal step to gov­ern­ment ap­proval.

The RFU has been de­vel­op­ing an adapted non-con­tact ver­sion of the game which it hopes to demon­strate will meet the cri­te­ria for the re­turn of recre­ational team sport that was pub­lished last week.

Video anal­y­sis of footage from a va­ri­ety of forms of the sport, from 15-a-side, sev­ens, XRugby and touch, in­clud­ing ac­tion from clubs in the Isle of Man and Chan­nel Is­lands where con­tact rugby has been al­lowed to re­sume, is be­ing an­a­lysed by the RFU’s med­i­cal depart­ment to ex­am­ine the risk of ex­po­sure to play­ers.

And while a re­turn to full-con­tact 15-a-side rugby is not ex­pected for sev­eral months, the RFU is de­ter­mined to give clubs the op­tion of rugby ac­tiv­ity be­yond what is cur­rently al­lowed.

“We are do­ing ex­po­sure risk anal­y­sis and hope to have that com­plete by the end of this week,” Steve Grainger, the RFU’s rugby de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor, said. “The anal­y­sis is look­ing at where there are sus­tained pe­ri­ods of face-to-face con­tact. Ul­ti­mately it has got to be sci­en­tif­i­cally cred­i­ble be­cause the body that has to ap­prove it is Pub­lic Health Eng­land and the De­par­ture of Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport, so they want to be sat­is­fied we have done what we can to an­a­lyse that ef­fec­tively. We are op­ti­mistic that prob­a­bly a ‘two-touch’ vari­ant of the game will en­able us to put some­thing out there.”

De­vel­oped by RFU staff and an in­ter­nal work­ing group, the adapted game has its ori­gins in a train­ing ac­tiv­ity in which each team is given eight phases, each con­sist­ing of two “touch tack­les” to score a try. Fol­low­ing the first touch tackle, the at­tacker can run, pass or kick (be­low head height). Af­ter the sec­ond tackle, the at­tacker must stop, throw the ball up, catch and pass to a sup­port­ing team-mate, while the de­fence has to get on­side. Pro­vid­ing the at­tack­ing team do not make a mis­take, they can have up to eight phases to score.

The RFU says the for­mat is driven by de­ci­sion-mak­ing, en­cour­ages play­ers to go for­ward, sup­port oth­ers, cre­ate con­ti­nu­ity and ap­ply pres­sure – all key com­po­nents of the game which will pre­pare play­ers for the re­turn of full-con­tact 15-a-side rugby. Grass-roots clubs are cur­rently re­stricted to so­cial­ly­dis­tanced train­ing in groups of six.

“We want some­thing in the short term, hope­fully from early Au­gust when clubs would nor­mally be get­ting back to some el­e­ment of pre­sea­son, that would al­low us to ex­pand that bub­ble be­yond six play­ers and al­lows them to be closer than one-me­tre plus,” Grainger added. “Get­ting some­thing that en­ables larger groups to do some­thing that isn’t just strength and con­di­tion­ing train­ing and that feels like it is a pos­i­tive move for­ward.”

Grainger said that other adapted ver­sions of the game, in­clud­ing a 15-a-side for­mat with­out scrum­mag­ing, ruck­ing and maul­ing, and re­duced height tack­ling, were also be­ing con­sid­ered. How­ever, he in­sisted they were not de­signed for use in leagues, and clubs would not be forced to em­brace any adapted ver­sions – ad­mit­ting that some were not in­ter­ested un­til 15-a-side full-con­tact rugby is able to re­turn. “The ques­tion is, what is go­ing to hap­pen if we can’t do that un­til Novem­ber or Jan­uary?” added Grainger. “That is where we have to be driven by the clubs.

“We are in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a lot of clubs and the jury is di­vided. Some def­i­nitely want some sort of adapted ac­tiv­ity as soon as pos­si­ble be­cause they need to drive rev­enue back into their clubs and want the play­ers to re­turn. Oth­ers are not in­ter­ested un­til there is a re­turn to ‘real rugby’.

“We have started dis­cus­sions with some clubs to con­sider at what point they think they might want some­thing that is an adapted vari­ant of the 15-a-side game. The most ob­vi­ous area is the scrum, ruck, maul, face-to-face front-on tackle.

“En­cour­ag­ingly, a lot of clubs who have started train­ing are re­port­ing high num­bers, with close to 50 when they might usu­ally have had around 20. But are they go­ing to hang in there for another cou­ple of months just in so­cially-dis­tanced bub­bles of six do­ing strength and con­di­tion­ing work? They are go­ing to want to get into some sort of ‘in­va­sion’ game sit­u­a­tion. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to en­sure there is a rugby on of­fer, but we are def­i­nitely not go­ing to im­pose a dif­fer­ent model or for­mat on any clubs.”

Grainger said the same ap­proach would ap­ply to age-grade rugby.

“A con­cept that can work all the way through the sys­tem is go­ing to be much eas­ier,” he added.

“The guid­ance seems to be that any con­tact sport won’t hap­pen in schools in Septem­ber, but if we have an al­ter­na­tive to some­thing that gets a rugby ball out there and groups en­gag­ing in an ‘in­va­sion’ game with that rugby ball, then it keeps it alive.”

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