The start of the league season for Wales’ rugby clubs is to be brought forward to November, with the Premiership also getting underway sooner than was first planned.
Originally, league rugby wasn’t going to return until January, with only cup matches prior to then, ahead of a winter break.
But, following a WRU review of the public health landscape, there has been a change of plan.
The senior men’s league season for the 300-plus community clubs will now begin on Saturday, November 13, almost two months earlier than planned.
This will apply to all divisions from Championship to Division Three, with clubs playing each other home or away in the leagues they were competing in when rugby went into shutdown in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The Indigo Group Premiership will start on December 11, also on a home or away basis. The top four teams will progress to play-offs to decide the league champion.
There will also be play-offs involving the top four teams in the Championship, to determine the competition winner.
Division 1-3 League winners will be entered into play-offs to determine National Divisional Champions.
Given the transitional period, there will be no promotion or relegation this season.
The second phase of the senior women’s cup competitions will take place between November 21 and the end of January.
Teams will be entered into pools for this second phase depending on placings in the first phase which is due to complete at the end of October.
There will be a break in February before the start of the women’s league programme on March 6.
The rest of the community game (youth and 2nd XV) will follow a similar seasonal structure.
While it has been agreed a long winter break is not currently necessary, breaks have been built into the season to manage the gradual return to match fitness after such a long period without rugby.
For example, the senior male leagues include a two-week Christmas break and breaks around international weekends.
The current law modifications will no longer be in place, providing the public health conditions remain favourable.
WRU chair Rob Butcher said: “Having taken all factors into consideration and after a period of robust debate, we believe this league structure is the best option for our clubs for this transitional season.
“We are very proud of the way the volunteers within our clubs, Female Hubs and other teams have negotiated the Pathway to Participation so far and we believe this model for the league season, in addition to the cup competitions, will provide the appropriate next step towards the safe return of the full community game.”
WRU Chief Executive Steve Phillips added: “The clubs are the lifeblood of the game in Wales and while we are thrilled to return to full capacity internationals at Principality Stadium this autumn, it is vital that goes hand in hand with restarting grassroots rugby.
“We are committed to supporting our clubs off the field as well as on it and we hope that maintaining the same level of Core and Development payments will reassure clubs financially at a time of ongoing uncertainty.”
WRU Community Director Geraint John said: “We are pleased to be able to move a little more quickly than first planned along our Pathway to Participation and look forward to the return of regular, league rugby at all levels.
“Our continued aim as we have stated throughout this process, is to ensure a safe and sustainable return of the full game and make sure our clubs are as healthy as possible on and off the field when we come out of the pandemic.
“We feel that these measures will help clubs, volunteers and players to achieve that over the course of this season.”
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