The Stormers’ medical team has put plans in place to test players on a daily basis and ensure that their athletes remain rugby fit. JON CARDINELLI reports.
A ban has been placed on mass gatherings following confirmation that the novel coronavirus has made its way into South Africa. The Vodacom Super Rugby tournament has been put on hold, as have most other sporting events, for the foreseeable future.
Some teams have continued to train, though, while keeping the bans and restrictions in mind. On Tuesday, Stormers coach John Dobson and team doctor Jason Suter explained how the situation will be managed at the Cape-based franchise going forward.
The players have reported for training since returning from Durban – where they played their most recent Super Rugby match against the Sharks. As I made my way from the car park toward the High Performance Centre, I noticed that a few of the Stormers were in the gym and that a few more out on the field.
Significantly, the squad was not training together in one big group as is the case on a ‘normal’ day at the HPC.
Dobson has confirmed that the players will have the rest of the week off. The Stormers have already been subjected to tests for the coronavirus and will continue to undergo screenings when they return from leave.
At this stage, no player in the Stormers squad has tested positive for Covid-19.
‘These guys have to stay conditioned for when the call to action comes,’ Dobson said. ‘We can control the hygiene in this environment.
‘There’s no team training or meetings at the moment, but the guys can do individual work. We’ll gym in small pods. We won’t have the whole squad in there at a stretch. The guys will go on to the field almost individually. They can catch high balls or do defensive tracking, with a coach standing a few metres away. They will still be working.’
The Stormers team doctor went on to unpack the guidelines that had been passed down by Sanzaar and SA Rugby. While many South Africans have been encouraged to work from home, the ‘workplace’ may be the safest place for the Stormers at this point.
‘We’ve been provided with stringent guidelines around social distancing,’ said Suter. ‘However, you’ve got to look at it in the sense that the HPC is a safer environment than what the players may experience in the outside world.
‘We’ve banned individual gym work and training at Virgin Active and so on, because you have an unknown population, a fluid population, in that environment. You’ve got no control over social distancing.
‘We have changed the way we do things here in terms of our gym and hygiene guidelines to be cognisant of the fact that we are dealing with something that’s potentially contagious. Keeping the guys at the HPC also allows us to self-monitor.’
The players, coaches and administrative staff have already been subject to tests on-site. Suter said that it’s ‘the right thing to do’ in light of recent developments.
‘By testing them daily, we can also keep an eye on what’s happening to them outside of this environment. That’s where the main risk is.’
Sanzaar’s guidelines advocate a daily temperature check. Suter explained that if the individual’s temperature is below 38 degrees and that if they display none of the listed symptoms, they will be regarded as ‘normal’.
‘If they’ve got a snotty nose, a temperature and some symptoms, and if we’re not sure whether it’s a cough, cold, flu or Covid-19, they will be regarded as positive until proven otherwise,’ he said.
‘We have set aside an isolation room. The individual will be given a mask and we will take appropriate precautions as the medical staff.
‘I will then take the required swabs. Then we will send them home to self-isolate. These are protocols that are being followed by the World Health Organisation.’
Players who feel that they may have symptoms will be asked to stay away from the HPC. Suter has instructed the players to call him for a telephonic consult if there is any doubt regarding their health.
‘There is a list of symptoms and if they have two or more, they will be regarded as a suspected Covid-19 case and they will be sent directly to the drive-through pathology centre for a swab,’ he said.
‘That way there is no contact with anyone here at the HPC. The individual will then go back into self-isolation.
‘If there is a positive result, we will manage it appropriately.’
Suter reiterated that there are no positive cases within the Stormers group at this time. The team doctor and his medical staff will have a further opportunity to fine-tune the testing process while the players are on leave this week.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images