SA Rugby announced on Friday that professional rugby teams would return to non-contact training from Monday.
The confirmation followed several weeks of preparation and consultation with government and all provincial unions to ensure compliance with regulation and to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Eight teams will resume training with a view to competing in domestic competitions that are being modelled by SA Rugby and member unions to be accommodated into the remainder of the year.
The eight teams are: the Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Southern Kings, Toyota Cheetahs, Tafel Lager Griquas and Phakisa Pumas. Due to the economic impact of the pandemic on the sport, the remaining professional teams will remain in lockdown.
SA Rugby continued to work with all stakeholders on the prospects of a return to play for the Springboks at some point this year.
“This is an important first step back to playing, and we have taken it carefully to ensure full compliance and having thoroughly interrogated the regulations with government,” said Jurie Roux, SA Rugby CEO.
“Contact training will not be permitted for the moment but the players will be allowed back onto the field with a rugby ball and back into the gym – while observing strict protocols in both areas – which comes as a great relief to the sport.”
Roux said that all players and management teams were being screened before Monday’s return and that training venues had been prepared to conform to the new protocols.
Several competition formats with various start dates featuring eight teams had been modelled for the return to competitive play, as it was highly unlikely that air corridors would be opened to allow international travel.
Roux said the only teams expected to appear in 2020 were the eight professional teams and those that fielded under-21 teams. All other competitions as well as club rugby were cancelled.
“The risk associated with a mass return to train and play has been highlighted by government and the timelines and practicalities are such that it is unrealistic that there will be a general return to play this year,” said Roux.
“Therefore the members of the CovCom [the standing committee of member unions and experts which has been managing rugby’s response to the pandemic] opted to formally confirm that the only rugby to take place under their jurisdiction this year would feature the eight senior teams.”
Roux added that schools’ rugby did not fall under SA Rugby’s jurisdiction and any decisions in that regard would be handled by the Department of Basic Education.