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Is R100m ‘bio-bubble’ still the way to go for SA Rugby under Level 2?

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The question, with the country moving down to level two of the lockdown at the weekend, is whether SA Rugby will still be required to play inside a safe bio-bubble in one or two venues, or will they be allowed to fly teams in and out of venues?

SA Rugby are hoping to stage an eight-team domestic competition from next month until December but needs to know how it will work under Level 2 restrictions. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Is playing inside a “bio-bubble” still the safest and most affordable option for rugby to return to action now that the country has moved to level two of the nationwide lockdown, in the time of Covid-19?

SA Rugby, who are hoping to stage an eight-team domestic competition from next month until December and including all four Super Rugby sides, the two Pro 14 teams, as well as Griquas and the Pumas, are still awaiting the government’s approval for a return to contact training.

The national rugby body submitted a plan to the government some time ago – when the green light was given for contact training to resume – but a thumbs-up for the plan and proposal has yet to be given to SA Rugby.

Currently, the players at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas are training in small groups of no more than five and the players are not permitted to make any contact.

Yesterday when Minister of Sport Nathi Mthethwa addressed the nation about the criteria and application process of the second wave of the Covid-19 relief fund, he said “It’s playtime” for sports teams and individuals, but didn’t specify any details around contact training in rugby.

Mthethwa added teams and individuals had already been given permission to resume their activities, or they still would be given permission.

The Currie Cup-like rugby competition had been earmarked to kick-off in early to middle September, but now appears unlikely to start until October. However, when the green light does come, teams will need up to six weeks to prepare properly for a full-contact competition.

The question now, with the country moving down to level two of the lockdown at the weekend, is whether SA Rugby will still be required to play inside a safe bio-bubble in one or two venues, or will they be allowed to fly teams in and out of venues?

Independent Media has learned that the costs of hosting all eight teams, plus the Under-21 sides, inside a bio-bubble could cost in the region of R100-million.

Teams staying and training in their home environments and flying in and out of venues on game-day could potentially prove more cost-effective.

Also, at level two, players and coaching staff may possibly be tested less frequently for Covid-19 than were the country still at level three of the lockdown.

Spectators will still not be allowed at matches when they do start, and teams and squads, according to the Minister will not be allowed to be bigger than 50 people.

SA Rugby are desperate to get a competition up and running, but before then they need to get the government’s approval for the players to make full-contact in training.

Whether that has to be inside a bio-bubble or not, however, is still uncertain at this stage.

@jacq_west