The Rugby Football Union Council have today made the difficult announcement to cancel the National League season for 2020/21.
The RFU believe even if a return to full contact rugby becomes possible, a meaningful season in National One, National Two North and National Two South is no longer feasible.
Due to the Government’s additional lockdown measures following the increase of COVID-19 infection rates in locations across the country, as well as the concern around travelling to fulfil fixtures which may increase the risk of transmission, the decision has been made to now provide clubs with some certainty for the remainder of the season.
The RFU’s decision will affect level 3 and below for Men and Level 2 for women.
Read here for an update on potential formats for the rest of the season which were discussed by the NCA exec earlier this month.
The RFU will continue to work with Government to enable a return to play in some form as soon as it is safe to do so.
They are also looking at models for a replacement competitive programme based on local clusters, with no obligation on clubs to participate and no consequences for deciding not to do so. Any local cluster competition would not be used to determine League positions for the 2021/22 season.
This would be an optional competition structure that may include a knock-out competition at the end of the 2020/21 season. The exact format and regulations governing any such competitions would be approved by the Governance Standing Committee.
NCA Chairman John Inverdale has said: ‘The NCA executive had recommended this course of action and is relieved, albeit very reluctantly, that everyone operating at levels 3 and 4 now understands the situation.
“We are still very optimistic that some form of competitive rugby for NCA clubs this season will be proposed in the immediate future, to enable players, supporters and commercial partners, the opportunity to get back into the rugby environment.
“Talks are ongoing with the Government, and the NCA exec is doing everything possible to make sure that clubs at our level are able to plan for the next six months, from a rugby playing perspective, but also to enable clubs to reboot commercially.”
The RFU have been in daily contact with Government about moving towards some form of contact rugby that will enable as many matches to take place as possible.
Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director added:“We are very keen to see competitive rugby being played again and have been pushing extremely hard to accelerate a return to contact rugby. However, we also need to be realistic about the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in society and, given the introduction of further regional restrictions, we are working with Government to create alternative solutions.
“Progress has been made following productive conversations with DCMS and the Office of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer who have shown a willingness to work with the RFU to explore other available options.”
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “I know that today’s decision from the RFU will be disappointing to players and fans across the country however protecting people’s health is absolutely paramount. The government is continuing to work closely with the RFU on ways in which we can bring the competitive, community game back in some form ahead of a return to full contact as soon as the public health situation allows.”
Steve Grainger continued: “While many people have looked forward to contact rugby returning, we are receiving more and more feedback from clubs and players that adaptations would be acceptable. There is an increasing appetite to play an adapted format of rugby rather than having no fixtures at all.
“We will do everything we can to enable the rugby community to return to contact play as soon as we can, but our priority is to keep players, coaches, referees and volunteers safe. We will provide an update to our community clubs as soon as we can. We would like to once again thank everyone for their incredible efforts in implementing the necessary changes and for their continued support in keeping formats of rugby going during this challenging season.”
For the current time we remain at Stage D on the Return to Community Rugby Roadmap.