The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 1 September 2020 *** 7 Government urged to change policy and follow Scotland lead Claims that ‘people will walk away’ unless play restarts soon The Rugby Football Union has urged the Government to fast-track its return-to-play plan for the community game, after conceding that it risks losing a generation of players from the sport. Today, the RFU will begin Stage D of a return-to-rugby road map, which will allow grass-roots clubs to resume tackling and rucking in training, but only for 15 minutes of a 75-minute session. Mauling, scrummaging, opposed line-outs and upright tackles, however, are still not allowed because of the Covid-19 transmission risk, while a return to full-contact club matches would require “social distancing [to be] removed completely” under the RFU’s definition for Stage F. Senior grass-roots figures, including Rosslyn Park president Nick Goddard, have warned that thousands of players could be lost to the sport during the hiatus, particularly as grass-roots football and cricket have resumed. Steve Grainger, the RFU’s development officer, does not dispute that, but says its hands are tied by government policy. “As a start point I don’t think we disagree with that,” Grainger told “We all want to get the club game and particularly first XV rugby going again, because, a) it is really important for player retention; b) it is really important for club revenues. The challenge we face is that we have to have our plan approved by the Government. It is not our decision. We are as desperate as Rosslyn Park and other clubs to get this done. It dominates our thoughts daily.” The government restrictions on face-to-face contact around the scrum, maul and upright tackling are the main obstacles preventing community rugby’s return. The RFU has offered National League clubs the option of starting their leagues without those fundamental elements in matches. “Of course, the majority of clubs say no, that’s not real rugby and it would not attract spectators,” Grainger said. “You are in this vicious circle.” With coronavirus infection rates rising, the only way that club rugby could resume in England is if the Government were to change its policy. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has given the go-ahead for the Scottish Rugby Union to resume grass-roots rugby from Oct 31. “The Scottish approach seems to be put the foot on the accelerator hard and brake when you need to,” Grainger said. “Our Westminster Government’s approach seems to be keep your foot on the brake and fallen even further behind, after Sam Underhill and Zach Mercer were both held up over the line. But Bath then infringed, Taulupe Faletau going off his feet, to allow Wasps, somehow, to go into halftime level at 13-13 thanks to Umaga’s first penalty. What followed was a breakdown shoot-out until Anthony Watson’s break handed the impetus back to the hosts, going close when Faletau was held up over the line, before Bath coughed up a turnover on attack and were duly punished. Wasps upped the tempo, taking a tapped penalty through Robson and then a quick line-out to leave Bath chasing back as Jack Willis thundered through a hole, offloading first time at 16-20. Bath’s pack then rediscovered their powerful form up front, a rolling maul splitting to the right for Jack Walker to dot down and flip the lead back their way. But there was another twist to come. Another good delivery from Wasps’ stand-in line-out thrower McIntyre hit the target, before Wasps mauled their way over for a penalty try, with Underhill sent to the bin for an illegal stop. Wasps held on for a gutsy victory to savour, leapfrogging Bath into the top four and giving those watching a welcome reminder of how good full-strength matchups can be. Scottish players agree pay cut How they stand mitigate the financial impact of coronavirus. A joint statement read: “Both parties have now reached an agreement that acknowledges the need for sustainability in the sport in Scotland.” Professional players in Scotland have agreed a salary reduction package. The Scottish Rugby Union and Rugby Players Scotland announced a confidential deal had been agreed following talks designed to P W D L B F A Pts Exeter 17 13 0 4 12 532 294 64 Sale 17 10 0 7 10 426 256 50 Bristol 17 10 1 6 6 367 365 48 Wasps 17 9 0 8 11 443 409 47 Bath 17 10 0 7 5 354 356 45 North’pton 17 8 0 9 8 371 396 40 Harlequins 17 7 1 9 7 369 431 37 Gloucester 17 6 0 11 12 402 396 36 Lon Irish 17 5 1 11 7 294 464 29 Worcester 17 5 0 12 7 270 450 27 Leicester 17 5 1 11 2 279 419 24 Saracens 17 12 0 5 10 464 335 -47 * Saracens deducted 105 points for breach of the salary cap, breach of salary cap The Daily Telegraph. from the sport unless we get playing soon,” Goddard said. “People have found other things to do on a Saturday afternoon, whether watching a box set or playing cards. Players will get bored if all they are doing is training. They will drift away if all they are allowed to do is train. It is hard enough to retain players in normal circumstances. “Community rugby is not quite on its death bed, but it was already a sick patient.” As an orthopaedic surgeon who has operated on Andy Murray and Wayne Rooney, Goddard has a foot in the rugby and medical camps. As the main playing cohorts of 20-35-year-olds are least at risk from Covid-19, Goddard says that government policy is riddled with contradictions. “There is an inherent risk in rugby and that’s why many people are drawn to the sport,” Goddard said. “When the risk of contracting the condition is so vanishingly small against the constant risk of injury then you have to say what is this all about? “If someone has done that risk analysis and found it is safe for Premiership games to take place, then it is safe for everybody else to do it.” to Brad Shields, who set Josh West up to score, the temporary hooker putting Wasps ahead for the Match details: Page 15 Premiership’s gold standard. But what interest do the wider rugby public have in a game devoid of any underlying tension involving play-offs or relegation between wildly mismatched teams? The Premiership likes to pride itself on its competitiveness: the cliche that any team can beat any other on their day. That USP is chipped away at with every walkover. Retaining the television money from BT Sport was a necessary short-term evil, but the longterm damage to the brand could be greater, particularly with the rights deal expiring at the end of next season. It did not help that Saracens’ scores lacked much in the way of artistic merit. George scored the first from a dominant maul and then had the ball pinched from his grasp by Brad Barritt, who scored the second. Former Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy responded with a try on his debut from close range, before England No 8 Billy Vunipola scored with a tap-and-go following a scrum penalty. London Irish kept swinging and centre Matt Williams crossed after scrum-half Rory Brand pounced on a loose ball in midfield. George got his second from a maul and, in the second half, prop Richard Barrington matched his tally with two tries in three minutes. Next up for Saracens will be Wasps at home on Saturday, in their last full-strength hit-out before the Leinster quarter-final, for which Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola are due to return. As impressive as Saracens have been since the restart, Leinster have been a cut above, winning both their derbies against Munster and Ulster. “They’ve won every match they’ve played since they lost the European final last May to us – I saw them against Munster and they were excellent,” McCall said. “They were phenomenal against a stacked Ulster team, too. “They’ve got huge momentum and have a semi and a final before us, presuming they win the semi, but if we get our best team on the park we’ll give them a run for their money. We don’t quite have the depth we had in the past, but fingers crossed we get there healthy, then we stand a chance.”
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