Leo Cullen: Games behind closed doors 'better than nothing'

Leo Cullen has warned that other sports will return to play before rugby can pick up where it left off last month.
Leo Cullen: Games behind closed doors 'better than nothing'

Leo Cullen has warned that other sports will return to play before rugby can pick up where it left off last month.

All contact sports will be in a similar situation as a result of restrictions on movement and mass gatherings and the Leinster head coach has stated that teams and unions will need to be “open-minded” in the bid to get the club and international games back up and running.

The current restrictions are, as things stand, due to continue through to May 5 but life is a long way from any return to normality with sport facing an uncertain short- to medium-term future in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine.

“Most team sports. there is going to be some level of contact so what all that looks like is still very much unknown,” said the Leinster head coach. “There are complications because we are in the middle of the season and there are still games to be played, what's all that going to look like.

We're challenged by the cross-border issue as well. The actual challenge of playing the game itself we will see. There is probably going to be other sports back up and running before us so we will see how a lot of that materialises. We're just trying to put a plan around the playing group.

Among the ideas being formulated is that of playing games behind closed doors. Even that is not without risk given the numbers of players, management, support staff, security, match officials, media, etc. that would be required on hand at any game.

That is before the matter of testing is broached as everyone involved in every game would need to be confirmed as coronavirus negative. That is far from a straightforward task given the demand here and globally for testing kits, PPE, and other essential equipment to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We will just get on with that if that is the arrangement,” said Cullen of the closed doors policy. “It will be a slightly different situation if that was to take place. We've all been involved in training games and pre-season games where there is not that same crowd atmosphere at games.

“It takes away from what supporters bring and we have been incredibly lucky over the last number of years in terms of the involvement our supporters have had but it would be better than nothing and it would allow us to get the sport back up and running.”

The complications pertaining to most team sports are only exacerbated in Irish rugby terms given the four provinces play in two competitions – the Guinness PRO14 and the Heineken Champions Cup - played across international boundaries.

PRO14 CEO Martin Anayi has expressed confidence that the league could resume sometime between July and September. That remains to be seen but, if it did, then the likelihood is it would start with derby games in the five different jurisdictions to limit travel and red tape.

Cullen is all for a beefed-up interpro series if that is what it takes.

“Definitely,” he said on a Monday conference call. “At some point you're going to have to get back playing and get back training, even in smaller groups. It's just a gradual build-up of whatever that all looks like. There may be complications in cross-border competitions.

“We have four interprovincial teams on our doorstep and our club scene as well. What does all that look like and what is the level that we come back at? It's important that we are open-minded to the best solution and the decisions that have to be made to make the best of the situation we are in.”

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