The return of professional rugby in New Zealand has raised hopes of a similar restart for the club game in Europe but there still seems a long way to go before we see action.
The revised Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament kicked off on June 13 and features all five of New Zealand’s franchises. So far so good, with packed stadiums seeing free-flowing rugby and as ever, it is the Crusaders who are tipped to dominate as they are the
20/29* favourites to win the tournament.
Now Australian officials are hoping for a similar impact to reignite the domestic game after the coronavirus-enforced break.
State governments have still to rule on whether crowds will be allowed to attend the early stages of Super Rugby AU or, like the tournament’s rugby league counterpart the NRL, matches will be played behind closed doors.
Either way, it will be a step in the right direction as society, not just sport, continues to develop its plans for approaching the ‘new’ normal.
The Australian tournament’s opening round is scheduled for the opening weekend of July and it is the Brumbies who hold
11/10 favouritism in the outright market.
Europe Getting Back to Normal
So what does this mean for rugby in Europe? The first thing to mention is there is a still a feeling of stepping into the unknown. New Zealand has reported new cases of coronavirus, even after declaring the country safe, while the situation is far from certain in Australia.
Still things are getting back to normal in Europe with top-flight football returning in most countries and the various unions and competitions are making tentative steps to restart rugby union.
A provisional schedule has been put in place to finish the Pro14, with the season to resume with two rounds of derby fixtures to be played in August and a final in September. Crucially, those plans also include gaps that can be filled in by the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.
Similarly in England, the Premiership is pencilled in to restart on August 15, four months after the initial proposed return date. Teams were given the green light to return to training earlier this month with Exeter leading the standings on 45 points, five clear of Sale.
With lockdown measures being eased, there is every chance some crowds, if not full houses, will be allowed, much like in France where government guidelines permit 5,000 people to attend events.
The Top 14 teams have already scrapped their competition without a winner or relegation and may instead look to start afresh with a new season. Such a decision would also allow the likes of Toulouse, Clermont, Racing 92, Toulon, Castres and Bordeaux have a chance to get some meaningful rugby under their belts before continuing with their European endeavours.
On the face of it, the signs are good as far as rugby union returning in Europe and the reaction to games in Oceana has been extremely positive.
However, like everything in these unprecedented times, there is a degree of stepping into the unknown as far as northern hemisphere rugby is concerned.
For now, all we can do is sit tight and hope that by August, it is safe to resume both domestic and European campaigns that were bubbling under nicely.
*All odds correct at time of writing