Professional rugby in Scotland is targeting a restart with back to back derby games between Edinburgh and Glasgow – likely behind closed doors – at BT Murrayfield on August 22 and 29, with a final schedule to complete the 2019-20 season now agreed.
The Guinness PRO14 as a whole will restart on that date with derby matches in the five territories represented in the league, and begin an abbreviated finish to the season which ground to halt with the coronavirus lockdown in March.
Scotland’s pro players have been “invited” to start conditioning training a Murrayfield next week, a delicate choice of wording to allow them to remain on the government’s furlough scheme for the first phase of training.
There will be a nine-week programme to get players back up to speed graduating through weights and running to ball work to competitive contact before the season restarts on August 22.
If the distancing advice is reduced from the present two metres within that time, then it is possible that fans could attend the games. While Scottish Rugby is presently working on the basis that the games will be behind closed doors, they believe a one-metre rule could allow as large a crowd as 30,000 within Murrayfield.
In the PRO14, the two rounds of derby games in Scotland, Ireland, Italy, South Africa and Wales will conclude the regular season at 15 games rather than the originally scheduled 21. The two games postponed prior to the indefinite suspension have been declared 0-0 draws and both sides awarded two points.
After the completion of the two remaining games, the season will conclude with the play-offs over four consecutive weekends with the Guinness PRO14 Final targeted for September 12. The two top teams in each conference – currently Leinster and Edinburgh – will get a bye into the semi-finals as before.
The tournament organisers will consider the latest information on restrictions in the territories that knock-out games could take place before making a final decision where play-off games will be played.
“Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season,” said tournament director David Jordan.
“We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.
“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense.
“Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”
The league is also targeting a October 3 start to the 2020-21 season, meaning that the truncated finish to 2019-20 will act effectively as a pre-season for the clubs.
In terms of European qualification, the tournament partners agreed that the rankings on suspension of the league should stand, meaning both Edinburgh and Glasgow have secured places in the main Heineken Champions Cup for next season, pending EPRC’s decision on how that competition will be played.
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill welcomed the new schedule and the news that his team would be back in the main European competition next season.
“I think it’s good for everybody,” he said. “It’s great to firstly not only have a date for an invite to voluntary fitness for the players, but now we can work towards a target of matches and we know when we’ll hopefully be playing again.
“Obviously, there will be some hurdles to get over first, but it’s a really positive step forward for all of us at the club.
“It will be great to hopefully face off against Glasgow in what are always intense derby fixtures, and hopefully we’ll get some positive performances and results and perhaps down the line the club will be looking forward to a Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final.
“We’re also now back into the Champions Cup for 2020-21 which is brilliant news. The top table of Europe is always something we want to be part of on a regular basis because that’s where the best and consistent teams play.
“We’ve tasted a bit of success in the Champions Cup last season and qualification for next season’s competition means we’re once again dining with the big boys of European rugby.”
Glasgow will be in an odd situation with new head coach Danny Wilson taking the reins for the two derby games after Dave Rennie left at the end of last month have piloted the team up until the suspension of the league.
Also Glasgow’s European qualification is secure being placed third in their conference prior to the suspension, but they could still lose their play-off place depending on the outcome of the two derby games against Edinburgh.
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