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Rugby set for August return as IRFU confirm plans for Aviva inter-pros

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Leinster Rugby have cancelled their 2020-21 season tickets. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Leinster Rugby have cancelled their 2020-21 season tickets. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Leinster Rugby have cancelled their 2020-21 season tickets. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Rugby will return on the weekend of August 22 with a series of inter-provincial Guinness PRO14 matches behind closed doors, according to plans announced by IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.

Browne warned that the union faces a loss of between €15-20m if the Six Nations and November internationals are not played this year, and a €30m loss if the 2021 Six Nations does not go ahead. If this year's matches go ahead behind closed doors, it will cost the union €10-15m.

He welcomed today's announcement of investment by investment firm CVC in the Guinness PRO14. The union will receive €30m over three years from the deal.

But he called on the government to step in and support sports at all levels, revealing that 65 rugby clubs have applied to the €500,000 union's relief fund.

The plan for a return is being prepared for government. Browne said players will need six weeks of a pre-season before they can play, meaning they would need to return to team training before the scheduled date for rugby's return on August 10.

The August 22/23 interpros would be held at the Aviva Stadium as part of the PRO14 and would be followed by another round at the same venue a week later.

Then, the PRO14 would go into a semi-final, and final play-off before the remaining rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup are played and international rugby resumes.

"Our documents are now with the government and I would like to acknowledge the cooperation and support we have received from the government and its agencies, in particular Sport Ireland and The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport," Browne said.

"Based on these protocols, we have set target dates of 22nd and 23rd August for a return to play with the staging of Guinness PRO14 derby fixtures between the provinces at the Aviva Stadium behind closed doors, as part of the completion of the Guinness PRO14 2019/20 season.

"In these times these matches are not just rugby fixtures, they are a beacon of hope for the entire country. A step, albeit a small one, in Ireland’s opening up to an environment for which the entire country yearns, deserves and has sacrificed so much to win back.

"We very much look forward to being able to play our part in delivering this much needed tonic for the country."

The figures outlined by Browne showed the urgency for the sport to start up again.

"We've hit a revenue cliff, there's no revenue coming into the provinces of any material amount. The IRFU revenues have dried up," he said.

"We have to get back playing competitive, revenue generating matches as soon as we can.

"There are variations, playing behind closed doors and playing with full attendance and everything between is on that spectrum."

International travel could be a barrier to resuming, but Browne suggested that teams may be treated differently to other travellers.

"What I can say is that we are proactively engaging with World Rugby and our fellow unions to work on a programme which will deliver international matches here sometime in October or November," he said in relation to the international game.

"Obviously as part of this approach we are keeping a close eye on the various top-level sports around the world which are now coming back to play.

"We will take whatever learnings we can from their experiences in order to ensure we meet with the most stringent health directives and guidance around the safety of players, management, all of the support crew and supporters, if involved."

Browne said the IRFU would be calling for government support for sport due to the impact of Covid-19.

“If I might just finish on a stark note in relation to sport in general," Browne said. "The levels of financial loss being encountered by all sporting organisations is catastrophic and rugby is no exception.

"Almost 70 clubs have already applied for support through the Club Continuity Support Fund and this will only grow. The IRFU will do what it can to lend support to clubs but there is only so far drastically depleted funds can stretch.

"It is not sensationalist to suggest that without Government financial support sport will take a generation to get back on its feet, leaving an enormous void at the heart of communities throughout the land.

"Sport and Clubs have played an inestimable but often undervalued role in the development of our young and the health of the general population.

"I would call on Government, who have done such a magnificent job in shepherding the country from the worst excesses of this pandemic over the past months, to fully recognise Sports’ contribution and role as a core strand in the fabric of our society, and in turn provide the significant financial support all sports will need in the difficult transition from dormant isolation to vibrancy across their communities."

When the league campaign was curtailed, Leinster were leading Conference A with 13 wins from 13, with Ulster in second. In Conference B, Munster were in second while Connacht were in fourth.

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