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No concerns, we just want to play

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That seems to be the feeling of the country’s professional rugby players about returning to full-contact training and on-field action.

File image. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky BackpagePix

No fears and no concerns. That seems to be the feeling of the country’s professional rugby players about returning to full-contact training and on-field action, according to MyPlayers, the organisation that looks after their interests.

According to MyPlayers chief executive Eugene Henning, the men he has dealt with over the course of the last few months of lockdown are mostly all in favour of a return to full-contact training and play and have expressed no fears to him about getting up close with teammates and opponents.

This country’s top players are expected to return to full-contact training and play within the next few days and weeks following the government giving the green light for rugby to start up again. There is also a strong likelihood of a domestic competition being staged in a “bio-bubble” from mid-September to mid-December involving the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers; the Cheetahs and Kings; and the Pumas and Griquas.

Players from those unions have been involved in small-pod, non-contact fitness and training exercises for over a month now, but the closeness of contact training and on-field action will now, potentially, increase the chances of Covid-19 spreading in a team environment.

Henning though said that from his interactions with some of the players, concerns of this nature were virtually non-existent.

“Let’s get on with playing some rugby again”, was the general go-to phrase among the players he had interactions with, said Henning.

“I’m not aware of any cases where players are concerned for their safety,” said Henning. “The general feeling among the players is that if the return-to-play is done responsibly and in a strictly regulated manner, we should get on with playing some rugby again.”

Henning added if there were players who felt uncomfortable about returning to full contact training and play they were well within their rights to stay away. “In such a case a normal labour-related conversation would need to be had between the employer and the employee,” explained Henning.

“The likely result would possibly be ‘no play, no pay’ once the player has used all his annual leave days.”

MyPlayers, the organisation established by the players to represent them collectively in the rugby industry, recently appointed former Springbok team doctor, Konrad von Hagen, to represent the players in all things Covid-19.

“Dr Von Hagen has seen the return-to-play plan and he has given it the thumbs up,” said Henning. “The plans are in line with similar return-to-play protocols already in use in other competitions that have commenced in other parts of the world.”

Von Hagen was roped in by MyPlayers after completing his four-year stint with the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup last year. He serves as a consultant for the players at SA Rugby level meetings.

He recently told rugbyrocks.com: “I represent the players and their concerns (around Covid-19). My job is to make sure everyone is happy with the plans and everyone feels safe.”

Von Hagen had his first discussions with the players, individually and in team format, about Covid-19 and the return-to-play protocols, on Wednesday and yesterday. “Obviously, the players are in regular contact with their own team doctors, but I’m here if they want a second opinion,” said Von Hagen.

SA Rugby are now awaiting the government’s approval of their plan to return to contact training and play.