Rugby Union: 2020 NSW Country Rugby Union Championships cancelled

The NSW Country Rugby Union Championships have become the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic with the NSWCRU Board taking the unprecedented step of cancelling the 2020 event.

The annual tournament was due to be held in Tamworth on the June long weekend.

It's believed to be the first time the championships, which have taken on a few different forms over the years, have been cancelled since the war days, and the decision was a tough one to make.

"Obviously we're really disappointed. It's a flagship event for us and has a long standing tradition," NSWCRU Executive Officer Stephen O'Brien said.

"But everyone is completely understanding of the situation that's in front of us."

"The big thing for us this year is taking the pressure of the zones. The heartbeat of Country rugby is our clubs and competitions so if we can just work with the zones around getting them up and running as soon as we can that's going to be the best result for Country rugby."

While falling after the restrictions imposed by Rugby Australia (all rugby-related activities are currently suspended until the first weekend in May), the NSW Public Health Order prohibiting mass gatherings isn't due to expire until the weekend after the championships.

More than 700 players, plus many more support personnel and spectators, were expected to attend the event, which was to be held at Scully Park and Ken Chillingworth.

O'Brien said the public gathering restrictions were a consideration, but weren't the main reason for the decision. The uncertainty of the current circumstances and the impact of that on the zones, and by extension of that the clubs, was the driving factor.

"We got to the point where we've got to consider all of the nine zones' costs and the more that we prolonged making a decision the more it impacted them financially around being able to maybe get a refund or cancellation from their motels or bus companies," O'Brien said.

By making the decision now it takes a lot of the stress and pressure off the zones not only financially, he said, but also logistically.

"They don't have to organise their country champs teams, they can just get on with trying to run their competitions, which will be a challenge this year," he said.

The cancellation is also set to have an impact on Country's representative program, although they aren't closing the door on any rep rugby this season.

"If we can come up with some sort of arrangement at the back end of the year and all the zones really want to buy into it then great, and if we can run a rep program off the back of that, even better, but at this stage it's a bit too early to tell for us," O'Brien said.

On the back of the historic Super Rugby clash between the NSW Waratahs and Bulls being cancelled, Central North president Tony Byrnes said it "was very disappointing".

But he was expecting it.

"As soon as the public health order changed and lowered the outdoor gatherings and they extended it out to the 18th of June, that was the sealer," he said.

The blow has been cushioned a bit by the fact that Tamworth is locked in to host the championships through to 2022. That was announced last month following an agreement between Tamworth Regional Council and Wests Entertainment Group.

The news of the cancellation of the senior, colts and women's championships comes after the board of the NSW Country Junior Rugby Union, last week elected to cancel all their Country Championships, which were scheduled for May.