World Rugby’s medical advisory group has recommended consideration of rule changes which would ban scrum resets, outlaw team huddles, upright tackles and spitting, among changes designed to reduce the possible transmission of COVID-19. Players would also be required to change clothing and protective equipment at halftime.
While World Rugby said it is considering the efficacy and practicality of the rule changes it will not force national rugby unions to adopt them. In an interview with Radio New Zealand on Wednesday, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said the recommended rule changes would not be used when the Aotearoa Super Rugby tournament, involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams, begins on June 13.
“There don’t appear to be any signs of community transmission in New Zealand so our circumstances are quite different and we don’t anticipate the need to adopt the law proposals,” Robinson said. “We have been open with World Rugby about this and they understand our unique situation. We will continue to manage all health risks with stringent protocols and be led by our public health authorities.”
Robinson said Aotearoa Super Rugby will take place under stringent health and safety guidelines for the protection of players and team support staff. “The protocols include daily symptom and temperature checks, stringent hygiene and cleaning, contact tracing practices and asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get tested,” he said.
The five teams have resumed training in preparation for the start of the New Zealand tournament and are already applying strict health guidelines. “We’re taking good precautions,” Leon MacDonald, who coaches the Auckland-based Blues, told the New Zealand Herald newspaper. “We’ve changed our meeting room so we can have the appropriate spacing and wherever possible we’ll adhere to the safety recommendations.
“But once you get on the grass and start tackling you’ve got to be ready to play. It’s a tough competition we’re going into so we’ve got to be contact-ready.” Scrums have been cited as a particular area of concern over virus transmission because of the extremely close physical contact between players.
“We probably would have had a directive by now if there was going to be no scrums,” MacDonald said. “We’re expecting everything to look like rugby when we resume.” Super Rugby was suspended on March 15 after seven rounds had been completed in the tournament that features teams from South Africa, Argentina, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Global travel and quarantine restrictions mean that a return to international matches is not possible, causing New Zealand to establish its own domestic tournament.
Meanwhile, New Zealand has given the go-ahead for the resumption of community rugby from next month. New Zealand Rugby has imposed a May 25 to June 19 “prepare to play” period, with local club matches expected to resume from June 20.
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