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GUIDANCE: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs

GUIDANCE: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs

REUTERS

GUIDANCE: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs

World Rugby insist that the final call on whether matches are played behind closed doors or in front of crowds will be determined by national government directives.

However, in the highly likely scenario that matches will take place without fans for the foreseeable future the game's governing body has said a minimum of 167 people are needed for a match including players, coaches and match officials.

"Large traditional crowds are unlikely in the absence of an effective and freely available vaccine for COVID-19," the document, compiled by a group of medical experts led by former Ireland and Lions team doctor Éanna Falvey who is now World Rugby's chief medical officer, reads.

Clubs and unions across the world are facing into a hugely difficult year and the loss of revenue from the Covid-19 pandemic shut-down will be compounded by the absence of big crowds when the sport eventually returns.

World Rugby's guidelines lay out the roadmap to playing again, but also lay bare the complexity involved for those running the sport. The document, which was released last night, contains advice for clubs and unions about how to return to training and matches in line with government restrictions across the world.

Rugby's challenge is great, given the international nature of its competitions and revenue model and the high contact levels involved on the pitch.

"Rugby is a contact sport," the report reads. "To fully train and to play matches requires intermittent close physical contact.

"This type of contact will make all players training and playing close contacts. Therefore, should a team-mate or opposition player in a recent match develop an infection, all their teammates are likely to be close contacts and require isolation and testing."

To offset that risk, squads will return in small numbers with full training only allowed when government restrictions are eased. Players will have their temperature taken before entering the training facility and will be required to fill out regular questionnaires. Where appropriate, they will have to wear protective equipment like masks and gloves.

They are advised to avoid spitting, stop sharing water bottles and communal nutritional supplements, stop shaking hands and hugging. They will be required to change and shower at home and travel to and from training alone.

Once contact training is permitted, the document outlines, then all training participants become close contacts of one another which "has implications for isolation or quarantine should a squad member become infected with COVID-19."

Every day, the team facility must be thoroughly cleaned and clubs need to put in place an isolation room on-site in case of infection.

Rugby is currently listed as being part of stage five of the lifting of restrictions in Ireland, meaning a possible return to activity on August 10.

While the IRFU have welcomed the road-map to a return, they have not yet outlined their plans for getting the players back on the pitch.

Players were expecting to return to training on May 18, but that now seems unlikely.

Ireland's summer tour to Australia will be cancelled in the coming days and there is uncertainty about every element of the schedule.

"We have been working in full collaboration with unions, regions, competitions and players in preparing a set of guidelines that are WHO compliant in a rugby context," Dr Falvey said.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the sport would be guided by public health officials.

"We are all missing the sport that we know and love, and while it is difficult not to be playing or training, advice by the respective governments and authorities must be adhered to," he said.