Central North rugby abandons season, New England rugby ploughs ahead

COVID STRIKES: There will be no Central North rugby senior competitions this year.

COVID STRIKES: There will be no Central North rugby senior competitions this year.

Central North Rugby Union has abandoned the 2020 season without a game being played because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but hopes to play some "non-competitive" games this year, while New England Rugby Union has decided to attempt a truncated season.

The CNRU met with the presidents of its nine clubs via a Zoom video-call on Sunday morning, with the clubs unanimously deciding to call off the season, CNRU president Tony Byrnes said.

The NERU decided to stage a two-round competition, starting on July 18, at a meeting of its executive on Friday night. An NERU draw has already been devised, and involves a 10-round home-and-away competition leading to a one-weekend finals series involving first playing fourth and second playing third. The winners will meet in an October 3 grand final.

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Byrnes said: "We went through, I suppose, all the ifs and buts of the gatherings and social distancing and the time frame before we could have contact rugby with spectators, etc, etc. And we decided, based on that, we'd probably run out of time to run that competition, and we abandoned it."

Byrnes stressed that the abandonment announcement only related to senior rugby and not junior rugby.

He said the CNRU did not want to "put players at risk, administrators at risk, as well as the community, by trying to fit something into a space that wasn't right".

"This is a bigger thing than just sport in our community: it's a whole community threat, if you like," he said. "As hard as it was to make that decision, we made it in those interests.

"But we're fairly confident ... that things will continue to improve, and maybe in September or late August we might have some news - we might be able to run some non-competitive rugby."

Byrnes said that non-competitive rugby could include gala days, friendlies and local derbies.

That would be contingent, he added, on full contact being allowed and a "reasonable" number of people paying money to watch matches.

Following the NERU executive meeting on Friday, the six clubs were contacted and all agreed to participate in the competitions, NERU president David Clifton said.

Clifton rates the chances of the season launching as "well and truly" better than 50 per cent.

There will, however, be no third-grade competition - although Clifton said clubs may decide to stage third-grade games.

He said a number of factors would determine if the season got under way: the availability of grounds, clubs having sufficient players and meeting Covid-19 guidelines for training and matches, and the NSW government permitting matches to occur.

He said "we've gotta get over those hurdles ... I'd be surprised if we don't get the competition off the ground, certainly in some form. There's enough enthusiasm out there to play".

He added: "We've taken the bit between our teeth and said, 'This is what we want to do'. I'm a bit surprised about Central North. However, that's their decision.

"There was some thought about joint competitions [between the NERU and CNRU], but that was before we knew that our six clubs were prepared to commit."

He added: "It will be a very compressed competition. We're giving our clubs six weeks notice that that's when they're starting. So they've got two weeks to get their teams together and then start training."

Clifton said the New South Wales Rugby Union had a "very detailed plan" for the resumption of training and competitions. He said that if those guidelines were followed "to the letter", he did not "see that there is going to be an issue".

"Hopefully things [restrictions] will be relaxed, but we may be playing games with no spectators and so on," he said. "But the clubs have committed to that.

"Unfortunately, they won't have any income, but that's one of those things ... the priority is getting back on the paddock again."

Clifton said the NERU would ask all players and officials to have a flu shot. "We're not making that compulsory, but we are asking them to commit to that," he added.

"And we're also asking them to commit to downloading the Covid-19 app. We see that as being something that's very important ... if someone did come into contact with somebody [with the virus], it might be able to stem the spread of it very quickly - certainly within the clubs."

This story Central North rugby call off season but New England still on first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.