The cautious first steps towards a possible restart of the Premiership in late July have been approved with players now permitted to return to physically-distanced training.
There is no firm date for a resumption but clubs can begin to prepare for contact training in a fortnight or so.
Plenty of obstacles must still be negotiated, with strict conditions attached to even the most basic training procedures. All players and staff must have their temperatures taken before entering training facilities and also complete an education module that requires them to “opt in” to a return to rugby.
It means any player who feels uneasy, perhaps because they have a family member with underlying health problems, will not necessarily be compelled to return. For everyone else the hope is that stage two – contact training – will be permissible this month with a further month of full training then required before fixtures can be resumed.
The go-ahead, which also applies to Championship clubs, was agreed at a meeting of the Professional Game Board, which includes representatives from the Rugby Football Union, Premier Rugby and the Rugby Players Association. As yet there is no word on arrangements for the community game, with the RFU expected to provide an update this week.
The PGB had been concerned a training restart would require cash-strapped clubs to take players off furlough but the government confirmed that would be required only when matches resume and some revenue returns.
Amid concerns about players testing positive and having to be quarantined, the PGB has also been persuaded that the Covid-19 infection rate has eased sufficiently to proceed with stage one of the return to training guidance for elite sport.
Exeter, who top the Premiership after 13 rounds, were among the first to welcome the news and will be returning to training next week. “I am very pleased we are now at the stage where we can meet all the necessary minimum standards to ensure we can return to stage one of training,” said Rob Baxter, the Chiefs’ director of rugby.
“Initially all of our training will be carried out in an outdoor environment in small groups, after which we will then review the situation and make the appropriate decisions based on the assessments and information we have at hand.”
The Premiership clubs have unanimously voted to accept the 52 recommendations made by Lord Myners in his review of salary-cap regulations following the Saracens saga, with the aim of incorporating them into the regulations for the start of next season.
The recommendations include even stricter sanctions, such as stripping clubs of titles, for serious abuses of the cap, plus a fit and proper person test for owners and random mini-investigatory audits for two clubs each year.
The clubs still have to review whether to end the existing two marquee player allowance and agree on an appropriate salary-cap ceiling. Several owners are divided on whether or not the cap needs lowering.
Darren Childs, the Premiership’s chief executive, believes the decision to embrace Lord Myners’s report is a significant moment for the sport in England. “It’s a credit to our clubs that they have acted so quickly to support these recommendations and take the Premiership Rugby salary cap into a new era,” he said.
“We want to create the gold standard for delivering sporting integrity, financial viability and competitive balance. The next stage is for us to consult with our clubs, the RFU and the RPA and to enshrine these new regulations for the start of the 2020-21 season for the long-term benefit of our sport.”