Trying things differently: Rugby returning to P.E.I. fields during COVID-19 pandemic
Tackles won’t be part of the game again any time soon
Rugby players are beginning the process of returning to P.E.I. fields during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, at least one league on the Island is training and running drills.
"We're not even in a place right now where we can think about having games," said Ryan Lloyd, president of the P.E.I. Rugby Union.
Lloyd said he isn't sure when actual games will be played — but if they can be later this year, the sport will look different.
"We're looking at getting into having some touch rugby and some flag rugby, that's the same ideas as touch or flag football," he said.
It's drastic move away from the physicality of rugby — it means no scrums, rucks or pile ups, Lloyd said.
"It's a huge adjustment for the players but everybody's just excited to be able to get their hands back on the ball."
As rugby returns, there are COVID-19 precautions are in place. Leagues and teams need to be stocked with cleaners and disinfectants to wipe down balls and equipment. Masks and gloves have to be available for any first aid that may be needed and fields have to be set up to maintain physical distancing as much as possible, Lloyd said.
The return to play action plan was presented to the sport and recreation division of the Department of Health, which works with the Chief Public Health Office to ensure plans align with public health measures.
"Sport organizations are responsible for developing modifications for their game play, where necessary, that support physical distancing," officials with the province wrote in an email.
"Rugby is a high-contact sport, like boxing/wrestling, and would require modification to ensure minimal contact and physical distancing in all areas of game protocols."
Lloyd said the return to play plan is a phased approach.
The first two stages required physical distancing to be maintained at all times and group sizes not be larger than 25 people, Lloyd said.
"We've been approved to have brief breaches of the two metre physical distance, but now we're trying to stay apart as much as possible."
Brief breaches would be situations where players can be closer than two metres for a short time, like strategizing on the field or heading to the benches off the field.
'Don't want to push things'
Right now rugby on the Island is in Stage 3, allowing for things like, training sessions, drills, brief breaches of physical distancing and some flag or touch practice games.
"Our fourth phase allows more breaches of the physical distancing while still maintaining it," Lloyd said, adding that phase also allows for touch and flag rugby games.
"The fifth stage is the stage where we would start looking at introducing contact back into rugby and we could start looking at having more full games."
Getting out to train is one thing, but being able to get out and see everyone is kind of next level.— Ellen Murphy, Charlottetown Rugby Football Club
Lloyd said he hopes the sport can move on to Stage 4 in the fall, "potentially Phase 5 although I'm not putting a date on that or anything or hopes on that at all."
He said players are just happy to get back to the field.
"Everybody's been super understanding that we don't want to push things too far too quick," he said.
Right now, only the Charlottetown Rugby Football Club's women's team is running training sessions. Ellen Murphy, a member of the team, said it will be nice to see some teammates again.
"It's been a long five months off and there is only so much you can do at home or on your own so it is very exciting to get back on the field," she said.
"Rugby is a very social sport. It's a big component. Getting out to train is one thing, but being able to get out and see everyone is kind of next level."
She said not being able to tackle someone will be different.
"I love the physical aspect of rugby that is kind of what keeps me coming back" she said,
"Honestly to be able to get out again and that social piece is as much as anything right now. Just being able even to toss a rugby ball around with some of the girls is exciting."
There is a bright side to the sport having no contact. Right now could be a good time for people who want to give rugby try, to give it a shot, Lloyd said.
Anyone interested in rugby can contact Lloyd on any of the P.E.I. Rugby Union's social media channels.