Rugby clubs around the country can start a three-stage approach to getting back on the grass with training potentially beginning later this month.
Today’s announcement from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) follows the Government’s confirmation that community sport can resume with certain hygiene and distancing measures in place during COVID-19 Alert Level 2.
NZR's comprehensive guidelines incorporating necessary hygiene and distancing measures for all levels of rugby (Super Rugby Aotearoa is excluded) will be released on Thursday, 14 May.
The guidelines are subject to change in accordance with Ministry of Health’s updated advice.
NZR Head of Participation Steve Lancaster said Rugby would take a measured approach introducing three distinct phases of preparation to ensure clubs were clear about the stringent health and safety protocols required to enable players, coaches and referees to lace up their boots for 2020.
“I know our rugby community is very keen to be back out on the grass, but we're being very cautious. We must get it right, and get it right the first time. The health and safety of our community is paramount.
“We're hopeful the 10 person per gathering rule will be increased on 25 May, and when it is, organised training can begin. In the meantime, we encourage participants to register for rugby and start preparing to return to training and playing.
NZR’s three stages of preparation (dates subject to change)
Phase 1 Prepare to Train From 14 May
Rugby clubs work with their Provincial Unions to put procedures in place to ensure all necessary requirements can be met. These include hygiene protocols for people, venues and facilities, requirements for gatherings and contract tracing. No organised rugby training or match activity will occur during this phase.
Phase 2 Prepare to Play (dates to be confirmed, subject to Government advice)
Teams begin pre-season training (including contact training) within NZR’s guidelines and recommendations. This is expected to be a four-week period from 25 May but will be confirmed following confirmation of the government's requirements for gatherings. Pre-season matches may be played in the final week prior to Phase 3.
NZR recommends Sporty's iDMe online contract tracing system.
Phase 3 Play (dates to be confirmed, subject to Government advice)
If restrictions on mass gatherings are increased from 25 May, competition fixtures can begin from 20 June.
Provincial Unions can set competition start dates to suit the needs of their own communities.
Lancaster said the Prepare to Play period is mandatory to support player safety and well-being. It also allows Provincial Unions, clubs and schools time to establish safety plans in order to meet the required public health measures.
He said there was plenty of time for players, coaches and referees to sign up online for the season if they hadn’t already registered.
"New Zealand has done an incredible job of staying home to stamp out COVID-19 and the rugby community has greeted the news of the return of rugby with excitement.
“We are now asking for patience. As keen as we are to return to play, we all need to take the time to do the work to ensure we are ready for kick-off. We’re asking everyone to be aware of their obligations and take responsibility for themselves.”
Lancaster said the phased approach would also apply to secondary school rugby and schools were also required to work within government guidelines for the education sector.
Return to rugby requirements, contract tracing advice and return to training requirements can be found online at newzealand.rugby/covid-19