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Players will continue to train at home as IRFU delays restart plans subject to government advice

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Ireland pictured training at an empty Aviva stadium before Covid-19 lockdown restrictions brought the season to a halt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland pictured training at an empty Aviva stadium before Covid-19 lockdown restrictions brought the season to a halt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland pictured training at an empty Aviva stadium before Covid-19 lockdown restrictions brought the season to a halt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The uncertainty surrounding rugby's return will continue into June after the IRFU informed players that they will not be returning to training next Monday as previously planned.

The move will come as no surprise after rugby was listed as part of stage five of the government's roadmap for easing the government's restrictions on public gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning the sport will only be allowed with social distancing after August 10.

The union have been working with government to understand the implications of that ruling, while they have also received World Rugby's guidelines for returning to play after Covid-19.

"The IRFU has confirmed to players that they will not be returning to training on May 18th and that we will contact them in June with further information, based on government guidelines," a spokesman said.

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By putting the players on standby for a further period, they have bought themselves some more time in planning their next steps.

However, the further delay will come at a heavy financial cost for the IRFU who have lost substantial revenue as a result of rugby's shut-down.

The cancellation of Six Nations fixtures against France and Italy cost them more than €5m, while Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup match against Saracens and the derby against Munster - both fixed for the Aviva Stadium, would have generated millions for the game here.

In March, the IRFU agreed a pay deferral scheme of between 10 and 50% with its 500-strong playing, coaching and administrative staff, with the biggest earners taking the biggest cut.

Those organising the competitions involving Irish teams are working towards a plan to re-fix lost matches and finish the tournaments, but the politics around scheduling is proving tricky.

World Rugby will host another round of talks this week against the back-drop of French club owners are threatening to boycott next year's Heineken Champions Cup unless eight teams can qualify for the tournament.

Ahead of this week's round of meetings designed to find a solution for rugby's fixture chaos, the Top 14 moneymen want to see the tournament expanded to 24 teams to solve their qualification problem after they abandoned their season.

There is growing rancour about the final result after the French season was cancelled after 17 matches due to government restrictions.

Rugby is due to restart in France in September, but with limited windows available to play off this season's European knock-outs and refixed Six Nations games, it had been expected that next year's tournament would be reduced in side with the top six from England, France and the PRO14 included.

That would mean Toulouse would miss out, despite the fact they were one point behind Clermont Auvergne with plenty of rugby to play before the shutdown began.

One owner told Midi Olympique that the clubs would be willing to boycott the knock-out rounds of this year's tournament and sit out next season's event in order to get their way.

Ulster were scheduled to take on Toulouse last month, with Clermont taking on Racing 92. The final was set for Marseille.

EPCR still want to hold the knockouts, with September and October currently the most realistic plans if government restrictions allow.

Those running the sport will be watching New Zealand closely after they announced a domestic Super Rugby competition that will start on June 10.

The IRFU may be forced to run a similar tournament if restrictions on international travel are not eased.

Meanwhile, Racing 92 have confirmed the signing of Australia star Kurtley Beale.

Online Editors