Guinness PRO14 organisers are considering isolation “bio-bubbles” in an attempt to get the competition back up and running.
And, while keenly aware of the many obstacles still to be overcome for rugby to restart, commercial director Dermot Rigley has expressed his confidence that the tournament will resume at some point in 2020.
“We're working on clean venues,” Rigley told Sport for Business. “Testing is obviously the key point here and how quickly you can get results back. The modelling that the tournament team here has worked on is a bio-bubble scenario where there is an absolutely clean venue or campus where no-one leaves or comes in after a while. Then you obviously have how it looks per stadium. So there's lots of different scenarios getting looked at at the moment.”
The international dimension to the PRO14 leaves it in a particularly tight spot given there are six jurisdictions – the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and South Africa – that must reach certain critical points in the battle against the pandemic before anything can start up again.
Among the creative solutions suggested to finish the current season is one which involves just two more rounds of matches, all of which would be derbies, before the top pair in each of the two conferences qualify for the playoffs
The aim is to have some rugby played in the August/September window.
“We all want to get it back but we want to get it right,” Rigley added.
“The great thing is we have the benefit of time now. It’s still early May and in each territory it is going quite well from the medical side. In Italy, it’s going quite well, in Ireland, and the UK are getting a handle on it as well and South Africa a little bit different. We should have a better idea of that in the next few weeks but definitely rugby in 2020 is our ambition.”
All of this is dependent on the virus being, if not beaten, then held in abeyance and that is far from certain with some countries already experiencing a rise in the number of cases after steps taken to re-open their societies.
Rigley is mindful of all that but remains confident that rugby will be played this year.
“The Irish government gave a date of 10th of August. We are working with them on when the elite game actually comes back. We are waiting on that. We do see a return to play but how that looks is the million-dollar question.
“Social distancing, as long as that is as strict as it is now, obviously plays on how many get into a stadium, and we are working on that, but we all know this is a game, I suppose, of snakes and ladders.
“We want to make sure we do things at the right time and as safe as possible for all involved. We want to make progress and, being in the business of major events, we don’t want to have that down-the-snake potential by going too early.”
Meanwhile, Ulster's long-term ambitions have been improved by news that Jordi Murphy and Will Addison have agreed to two-year extensions to their current contracts. Murphy has won 30 test caps. Addison has played four times for Ireland.