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Explainer: Irish Rugby's long road to normality as IRFU plots return

Irish Mirror logoIrish Mirror 23/05/2020 Michael Scully
a large stadium with green grass: A general view of the Aviva Stadium © INPHO/Ryan Byrne A general view of the Aviva Stadium

The phrase to 'eat the elephant one bite at a time' means that when faced with a seemingly impossible task, the best way to do it is to do it in small pieces.

It's the phrase that IRFU chief executive Philip Browne used in summing up the steps facing Irish rugby in returning to play in August.

All going well with the Irish government's roadmap to a return to normality, the provinces will get things rolling again with interpros at the Aviva Stadium on the weekend of August 22/23.

And if that goes to plan, there will be Test matches in late October and November.

HAS THE IRISH GOVERNMENT GIVEN THE GREEN LIGHT FOR THE INTERPROS?

Not yet. The IRFU have submitted return to play protocols and completed event management protocols, to be sent to Sport Ireland and the Department of Sport within 10 days.

WHEN WILL THE PROVINCES RESUME TRAINING?

Browne says it will take around six weeks, though preferably longer, for players to go through another pre-season type situation.

"If it's not possible to play then, we have to roll everything back accordingly," he admitted.

HAVE COSTINGS BEEN DONE FOR PLAYER TESTING?

a close up of a green field: A general view of the Aviva Stadium © INPHO/Dan Sheridan A general view of the Aviva Stadium

According to Browne, testing is "not cheap".

The hope is that will change - but access to testing and testing capacity could cause problems.

He said: "It’s eating the elephant, isn’t it? If you don’t start somewhere you’ll never eat the elephant.

"What we’re doing is trying to establish where the major challenges are and how can we address them. We have to do that if we’re going to progress.”

WILL PLAYERS NEED TO SIGN A WAIVER BEFORE RETURNING?

The IRFU hasn't yet looked into it. Browne said: "As it is as part of their contract, they effectively acknowledge that playing rugby which has some level of inherent risk.

"To some extent it's covered already in their contracts. But its's something that we'll have to look at."

WHAT IF SOME PLAYERS FEEL IT'S TOO SOON?

“We’ll be conscious of any players’ individual circumstances, and always have been," Browne commented.

"That’s a dialogue that happens at provincial level as much as anything else. We’d be more than conscious of making sure we do the right thing.” 

STORMONT HASN'T PUT DATES ON A RETURN ROADMAP. WILL ULSTER PLAYERS HAVE TO MOVE ACROSS THE BORDER INTO CAMP ?

Browne is optimistic that it won't come to that.

"I'd be pretty confident that, if our protocols are accepted, that we can have alignment," he said.

"The only major difference is that aspirational dates have been put on those phases of return by the government in Dublin, in Belfast they've taken a view they didn't want to put dates in there. 

"There's already a degree of alignment. It goes back to the point of a highly-controlled environment, medical and technical expertise and resources...you can be differentiated from the general population."

WHO WILL BROADCAST THE INTERPROS?

That will remain under the PRO14's control.

FOLLOWING THE DEFERRAL OF PLAYER AND IRFU STAFF WAGES, COULD WAGE CUTS FOLLOW?

a person that is standing in the grass: A general view of an IRFU plaque © INPHO/Billy Stickland A general view of an IRFU plaque

Senior internationals have been kept updated and the IRFU is working in tandem with Rugby Players Ireland. But Browne delivered a stark message.

"The reality is, if we don't see some light at the end of the tunnel there will have to be some very radical actions taken if we want to come out the other end in one piece," he said. 

"I don’t think we can continue that (deferral) indefinitely because what you’re building up is a liability month on month on month on month .

“We’re happy to do it at the moment but if the situation doesn’t become clearer as to when we can generate revenues, then that obviously has to be looked at along with the rest of our cost-base.”

COULD THE SUMMER TOURS - INCLUDING IRELAND V AUSTRALIA - BE PLAYED IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE IN THE AUTUMN?

The IRFU are exploring all options. While unlikely, it hasn't been ruled out.

"At some point, a call has to be made," admitted Browne. "There's options there to try and complete all the postponed international fixtures.

"Is that possible? Yes.

"If it isn't, then we have Plan B and Plan C, which is you're having to play something just within the northern hemisphere if intercontinental travel is simply not allowed or not practical".

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