Ireland’s professional rugby players could be facing further disruption due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak with the IRFU considering standing the provinces down next week.
Munster on Friday announced its squad schedule had been updated to include a down week next week, stating that no training will take place at its High Performance Centre on the University of Limerick campus.
Munster’s down week will see a break in training with players, both senior and academy squad members, not required to follow an overall official programme, though rehabilitating players will continue to follow their programmes under the guidance of the medical department.
Irish rugby’s governing body is understood to be discussing with its four professional teams the possibility of calling a halt to field training sessions. The IRFU on Thursday suspended all domestic rugby activity, both playing and training, in line with the Government’s imposition of restriction on large gatherings and the closure of schools, colleges and childcare facilities until March 29.
Initially, the provinces were free to continue training, though their matches in the Guinness PRO14 were postponed that same day as the cross-border league suspended its season until at least next month.
Strict hygiene protocols have long been in place at each of the high-performance training centres in Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster but at the very least, it now seems likely that extended group training sessions will be brought to a halt to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Each of the provinces has senior and academy squads numbering more than 50 players training in close proximity to one another but have begun working in smaller groups to limit those risks and may be asked to train individually with personal fitness plans.
The French Rugby Federation on Friday suspended all rugby and training “without exception until further notice” in order to effectively combat the spread of Covid-19 and Irish rugby is set to follow suit in the interests of wider public health priorities.
The challenge for provincial managements will be how best to keep their players ticking over without any idea when they might resume playing. As it stands, Leinster and Ulster have Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals to prepare for on the weekend of April 4-5 with Munster and Connacht due to resume their PRO14 campaigns the following week.
Strength and conditioning coaches will be stressing the importance of their players maintaining their playing readiness mindful of the potential loss of aerobic fitness and muscle mass from any inactivity. They will demand business as usual from players in relation to how they look after themselves physically but it is clear that rugby in line with the rest of society is having to adapt to a new normal.