Domestic club rugby in Ireland will have a new, one-off look for the 2020-21 season with the IRFU unveiling a much-modified format for the resumption of the amateur game.
Clubs have been out of action since the 2019-20 campaign was cancelled with immediate effect on March 19 due to concerns surrounding the public health emergency and the IRFU’s roadmap for 20-21 issued on Thursday reflects a continuing focus on player welfare and “Covid-19 risk mitigation”.
The new season is to be split into two stages with the first stage comprising friendlies and localised competitive matches between September and December 2020. Stage 2 will see a reformatted Energia All-Ireland League get underway on January 9, 2021.
The AIL season will consist of just nine rounds of league games followed by semi-finals and finals in all men’s and women’s divisions. The size and make-up of each 10-team division remain unchanged from the finishing positions of 2019-20 and there will be no promotion and relegation in this truncated campaign.
Stage 1 competition will see all AIL clubs compete in the Energia Community Series run across newly-formed local conferences based on the four provinces while success in those conferences will bring with them both silverware and the chance to qualify for All-Ireland level knockout rugby in Stage 2 from January.
"Our Return To Rugby Guidelines For Clubs mapped out a ‘safety first’ approach for clubs and we continue to be guided by this and the work of IRFU medical director Rod McLoughlin as we build towards a resumption of competitive rugby in 2020,” IRFU Rugby Committee chair Greg Barrett said.
"While there are many factors which helped shape this season outline, you will see that player welfare and Covid-19 risk mitigation are by far the biggest consideration.
"We are also hopeful that a focus on keeping rugby at a localised level in the first stage of the season brings with it an opportunity for clubs to re-energise their membership."
The IRFU’s timetable for the return to play is as follows:
July 20 - Contact Stage – Building Foundations Phase
August 1 - Contact Stage – Contact Prep Phase
August 29 - Contact Stage – Pre-Season Friendly Fixtures (TBC)
September 5 - Competition Stage – Provincial Fixtures (TBC)
September 26 - Start of IRFU Domestic Competitions sponsored by Energia
January 9 - Start of Energia All-Ireland League