Premiership Rugby’s plan to resume the season at the beginning of July and play the league season to its play-off final conclusion is looking unlikely after a decision to delay a return to training for at least another two weeks.
The players have been at home for two months and hoped to return to non-contact training in small groups this week after the government gave permission as long as a number of health and safety protocols were observed in what it called step one.
But when the Premiership owners and chief executives held a conference call on Wednesday night, the prevailing mood was that it would be of little use in preparing players for a return to play and they would rather wait for the day when full squads would be allowed to train together, the government’s step two.
The issue was discussed on Thursday by the professional game board, which is made up of officials from the clubs, the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Players’ Association. It backed the stance of the Premiership, meaning there will be no return to training until at least the end of the first week of June.
“We agreed that although a huge amount of work is being undertaken to enable a safe return to training for Premiership clubs, more time was needed to ensure that players, staff and officials can return to a safe training environment,” said Chris Booy, the chairman of the Professional Game Board. “That is not expected to be in place for a minimum of two weeks.
“Safety and welfare remain of paramount importance to all of us in the rugby community and we look forward to the season resuming when it is safe to do so. Further updates on progress will be made in due course.”
Geordan Murphy, the Leicester director of rugby, said this week he believed players would need to train for eight weeks to be ready to play. That would put the restart back to the beginning of August at the earliest and all but wreck the plan to play the remaining nine matches of the regular season and then go into the play-off stage with the new season starting after a short break.
Premiership Rugby still has to decide whether to stage each round of matches, which would be played behind closed doors, at one ground or two. Bristol and Wasps are among the clubs who have offered their facilities for free.