The IRFU has welcomed the announcement from government on Friday evening which will see all sports return on June 29, significantly earlier than originally planned in the roadmap to re-open society.
The decision is a huge step forward in calendar terms, not least for sports such as rugby, boxing and wrestling which involve close physical contact and were not due to return under the original roadmap until August 10.
Clubs operating in Northern Ireland are still awaiting updates based on the NI Executive Coronavirus Recovery Plan. The hope is that the process there can mirror that south of the border and allow the game to find its feet again within the usual Covid-19 constraints.
The IRFU'S previously stated intention was that the domestic club season, from AIL on down, would start up again in September - the 2019/20 campaign was abandoned after the pandemic struck and that leaves clubs with at least two months to fit in pre-season training.
The professional arm of the game was already ready to flex its' muscles again after a previous dispensation agreed by government that has paved the way for elite sports athletes to begin training again at select high-performance centres around the country.
In that sense, and with the Guinness PRO14 not due to start again until August 22, this latest missive from government buildings changes little for the four professional provincial operations although the news is nonetheless a welcome step on the road back to some normality.
“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the IRFU, the provinces and the clubs have illustrated their commitment to the safety of its players and volunteers,” said an IRFU statement.
“The process of implementing the appropriate public health measures in our clubs has accelerated in recent weeks and we are committed to returning to rugby safely.
“The IRFU in consultation with the provinces will assess the latest update from the Irish government and will communicate with clubs in due course.” Ulster and Connacht are due to begin training again on June 29. Leinster and Munster are due back this coming Monday and their players have already undergone Covid-19 testing in preparation for training in reduced training pods made up of seven players and a coach.
The IRFU has also installed automatic temperature technology at their high-performance centres in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Belfast. Daily temperature checks are one of the mandatory protocols that all players and staff must undergo to access the centres.
The DAMOC Thermo Check is a contactless method of temperature measurement. It has in-built facial recognition and wifi capability which allows it to be managed remotely. The device will provide a body temperature reading within two seconds and immediately flag high readings.
“The temperature check is just one of the protocols that must be undergone upon entry so this technology will help streamline the entry process to the HPCs and reduce the number of close contacts of staff,” said IRFU medical director Dr Rod McLoughlin.
Anyone with an adverse temperature reading will not be permitted to enter the centres and will be stood down to undergo further medical screening.