After an age of postponement, Women’s rugby and Schools and Clubs have been given the green light in New Zealand, to resume training ahead of a June return.
The phased reintroduction of team sports across rugby union, football, and other sports like Hockey, Netball/Basketball, will see many smiling faces. Player’s have had to bide their time during the enforced Covid-19 hiatus – which still sees limits of gatherings and safety protocols in place.
For women’s rugby, in particular, the pinnacle Farah Palmer Cup competition will resume in August. This is ahead of the men’s provincial rugby competition, which will begin on September 11 [at the conclusion of Super Rugby and any planned All Blacks camps/trial games].
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) head of Women’s rugby Cate Sexton spoke of the satisfaction that NZR had invested in the sustainability of the competition. “Notwithstanding the financial challenges of the Covid 19 pandemic, it was always our intention to make sure we had a quality competition for our female players to compete in.
“We are really happy with this outcome.”
A full 13-team Farah Palmer Cup competition has today been confirmed by New Zealand Rugby, with the season to kick off in August. Schools and Clubs can begin training now, with a view to a staggered-introduction of senior and junior grades in June.
ANNOUNCEMENT | Farah Palmer Cup to kick off in 2020!
— New Zealand Rugby (@NZRugby) May 29, 2020
Women’s rugby, Schools/Clubs given green light in NZ
While the women take stage-front in returning for the 2020 season, schools and clubs are equally pleased. Both have had withdrawal symptoms during the pandemic, so are glad that with the control measures in place, the reintroduction of training can’t come soon enough.
NZR head of participation Steve Lancaster said Rugby would take a measured approach introducing distinct phased preparation to ensure clubs were clear about the stringent health and safety protocols required to enable players, coaches and referees to ‘lace up their boots’ for 2020.
Winter sport would have been well into play by now so, with the reduced involvement, many are focused on a responsible resumption. Schools will need to comply with the Ministry of Education guidelines, as well as managing the enthusiasm of boys and girls who are eager to play [where practical]. Not all age-grade rugby will be able to be planned for, so club rugby junior programs may find they have more involvement than usual.
The community-level game is primary to all stakeholders. It is the grassroots, where boys dream of being All Blacks. Young girls have aspirations to become a Black Fern. Where tradesmen and secretaries can meet with teammates, put away their weekday uniforms, put on their jerseys, and enjoy the camaraderie this game produces.
📆 Dates confirmed for Community Rugby
Training in Bubbles of 10: 25 May to 29 May (12pm)
Training (up to 100): From 29 May (12pm)
Pre-Season: 13 June
Matches: 20 June
— New Zealand Rugby (@NZRugby) May 25, 2020
Returning to play, Logistics and Facilities in Covid-19 era
As the media statements and released guidelines state, the responsibility of a safe return is pivotal. Sport in any form, is about inspiring and connecting with players, families, and the community. For the amateur game, participation is of primary concern. But in the Covid-19 era, that must be hygienic and managed.
For some clubs, it will mean changing rooms stay locked. Having groups larger than 10 is forbidden; in that ‘smaller bubbles’ of players limit any chance of the virus being contracted. A challenge across all forms of sport but, as women’s rugby and schools/clubs resume, welfare, and personal safety remain of primary concern.
Contact tracing is another factor, with each club requiring the details of any person within the grounds. Registration which had not already been done prior to the postponement of all rugby will now need to be exact, and available for any situation – hopefully not because of an outbreak of Coronavirus.
OUR KIDS ARE BACK!
— Northern United Rugby Football Club (@NorthsURFC) May 26, 2020
Expect parents and partners to be excluded to begin with, so dropping off the kids might mean a designated area, separate from the field of play. Tough controls but, all part of the phased introduction by the government and NZ Rugby.
The facilities, which were once the hub of the community, will still be closed to the public. Don’t expect to be able to walk-up to the clubrooms for a pint. Off-limits, as the gatherings are limited to 100 during Level 2. That may change in time, so the sidelines can once again see fans watching footy……with social distancing in place.
Players delighted by the planned return of team sports
What won’t change, are the smiles and enjoyment of playing. Being with mates, making new friends, and learning the skills that could see some reach the heights of Farah Palmer Cup, Super Rugby, and the riches that professional sport can reward them with.
But for the majority, just having weekly training to open with, will be a huge relief.
Stuck inside during Lockdown, the ability to run around, pass and kick the ball, and to engage in contact sport, will feel great. In fact, the Chiefs Super Rugby franchise has had to ‘hold back’ some player’s who have been too enthusiastic, when it came to beginning contact-training this week.
For women’s rugby, full training might begin at a later time but the August schedule has been well received; as thoughts of no season at all are allayed.
Women’s rugby: Farah Palmer Cup 2020 schedule released
Women’s rugby has a big 12 months ahead of it. So the Coronavirus lockdown and postponement had the potential to put a ‘fork in the spokes’. Now with the recommitment by NZR to have a full Farah Palmer Cup season, it underlines that aspect of the game. From the grassroots participation to a fully-funded, pinnacle national provincial championship, it is comforting to say the least.
In a move to further delight rugby fans, the country’s best women’s rugby players will be on show across a *nine-week season, set to feature Black Ferns like Kendra Cocksedge (see below) and Black Ferns Sevens stars.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) May 29, 2020
After collaboration with Provincial Unions, 13 teams have committed to the competition which is set to feature 39 matches, kicking off on August 22. A revised format will see teams compete in North and South pools, with seven weeks of round-robin, before two weeks of playoff matches.
Cate Sexton stated, “the Provincial Unions have been working incredibly hard to establish and develop their women’s high-performance programs and as the game continues to grow.
“This competition is an exciting showcase of women’s rugby.”
The 2020 Farah Palmer Cup will be a critical piece of preparation for the Black Ferns as they eye their defence of the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2021. It is also expected to feature Black Ferns Sevens players, due to the disruption of the HSBC Sevens Series schedule.
Across the spectrum, the confirmation of semi-professional and amateur rugby competitions in 2020 is just what fans wanted. The likelihood of no rugby was upsetting for all stakeholders. With the positive actions of the entire community – in fighting the virus – the sport of rugby union is one of the many benefactors.
* The full draw for the 2020 Farah Palmer Cup will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images