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Joy for local rugby clubs as matches resume – without scrums or mauls

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Ellingham & Ringwood in action before the restrictions
Ellingham & Ringwood in action before the restrictions

LOCAL rugby clubs are back playing after the government gave the green light to return at the grassroots level, subject to adaptations.

As part of the Covid law variations released by the RFU, there will be no scrums or mauls in a bid to mitigate risks by limiting prolonged face-to-face contact.

Clubs have been unable to play matches or train full-contact since the first lockdown began in March. Due to the restrictions on close-contact sport, the 2020/21 season was cancelled with the new season expected to start in September 2021.

In a bid to continue playing, the RFU released rules for a 10-a-side non-contact game called Ready4Rugby. It enabled two teams of up to 10 players to train and organise non-contact fixtures with other clubs.

New Milton Rugby Club secretary Nick Hanmer said: “We considered trying to arrange touch games with other clubs, but after consulting with players we realised there wasn’t much enthusiasm.

“Once contact rugby can resume, I think interest will rise considerably. Unfortunately, there will invariably be some players who will prefer to wait for next season and some older ones who may decide to retire.

“Our youth section, which is one of the biggest in Hampshire, are very keen to return to playing and arrangements are being made. We saw some of the older boys found football teams to join to keep themselves active and we’re waiting to see if they come back immediately or continue with football for this season.

“Since the initial lockdown in March, the club has followed government instructions, and everything ceased on the pitch, in the bar, everywhere. Financially we are down on previous seasons, but we run a frugal ship, so we’re not having to go into debt so far.”

Clubs have been allowed to train with the adapted rule variants since 2nd December and many will be able to take part in local friendly fixtures from 18th December.

Christchurch RFC secretary, Donovan Lynaghan, said: “It was great news to receive from the RFU as the contact aspect is ultimately the critical feature of the game.

“While the Ready4Rugby format was useful and kept our players engaged, I think it’s fair to say every player has been looking for a return to the game, or as close as possible.

“We have started training already and are back into the swing of things. However, I feel caution should be taken with jumping back into games so soon. The RFU has advised games can be played from the 18th December, but we will wait until the new year before playing fixtures.

“The new format sees scrums and mauls removed from the game which, on the grand scale of things, is a small sacrifice to ensure we can return to the field and move on from Ready4Rugby. There is some concern about what this means for a few positions, namely the front five, but I genuinely believe all positions can be catered for and a good coach will involve all the players.”

There is no obligation for players and clubs to play the 15-a-side adaptations and clubs will still be able to play Ready4Rugby matches beyond 18th December if they choose to do so.

Donovan added: “Our ladies are back training every Wednesday and we’re excited to be launching our youth and mini section in February, which will train at The Grange school in Christchurch.

“I’d expect there will be a return to normality next September for the new season, but in the meantime, we have the opportunity to return to the field, with structured guidance on what we can do safely.”

Ellingham & Ringwood will be the first local side to play a match under the law variant when they play tomorrow (Saturday) against Blandford RFC as officials, coaches and players get to grips with the new changes.

Ellingham & Ringwood director of rugby, Mark Johnson, said: “Games will be played under the new rules in mini-cluster tournaments in both Dorset and Hampshire from 23rd January.

“I hope we will be able to open up the clubhouse for both our supporters and those from visiting teams by then.

“The club embraced the RFU’s Ready4Rugby initiative and held tournaments against other teams from across the New Forest.

“We have done all this within the guidelines to ensure we keep all our players and supporters safe. We have managed to find the right balance between the huge benefits of taking part in the sport against infection risks.

“I’m in favour of the temporary changes to the laws, and I played front row for the club, so I speak from someone that naturally enjoyed scrums. It is far better to play 70% of the game than none at all.

“There are also benefits for all players in having to adapt to something new. Many of our players have improved aspects of their play already through the Ready4Rugby games.”

To read the full Covid law variations visit bit.ly/34azcVN

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