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Rugby to return behind closed doors

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The Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

The Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

The Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Ulster chief executive Jonny Petrie has confirmed that rugby's return will be behind closed doors and is likely to begin with an interpro series at the Aviva Stadium.

Petrie is the first senior figure to speak out publicly about Irish rugby's plans for the future in an interview with the BBC, where he outlined the cross-border complications faced by his own province as well as the Guinness PRO14.

Discussions on plans to restart the sport in a safe manner as countries emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown are ongoing.

Rugby in Ireland is scheduled to be allowed to return as part of Phase Five of the Government's plan to ease restrictions which is currently scheduled for August 10 and officials in Northern Ireland are working towards a similar time-frame. 

And Petrie confirmed that the initial matches will not be played in front of crowds.

"The reality is that it's going to be behind closed doors or certainly restricted crowds for quite some period of time," he said.

"When I look back at the big nights at Kingspan Stadium, with 18,000 packed into the stands and the terraces, seeing that again feels like it's quite a long time away.

"From a revenue point of view, a big chunk comes from tickets and season tickets but we also have a portion of our revenue that comes from sponsorships and partnerships and from broadcasts as well.

"We want to try and get back playing to bring some revenue in because ultimately it's the professional level of the game that allows us to pay for everything at grassroots level. The PRO14 as a competition is a tricky one because of the cross-border nature of it. Each nation is in a different timeline.

"The interprovincial series to get ourselves going again is the path of least resistance. (But) If we are to play, we need to be aligned with the rest of Ireland. That creates its own complications."