• Light at the end of the tunnel

    The go-ahead from South Africa’s sports ministry for rugby teams to return to training will come as a welcome relief and sign of hope for players and coaches, writes DYLAN JACK.

    Sports minister Nathi Mthethwa, in a briefing on Saturday, confirmed that professional athletes in both non-contact and contact sport can return to training when the country drops to Covid-19 alert level three from 1 June.

    While further clarity will still be awaited over the rules and regulations around the return to training, it has provided a light at the end of tunnel that some form of professional rugby could be played before the end of the year.

    South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby coaches have already shared their concerns as the suspension of the season – which began midway through March – has gone on for months.

    As Stormers coach John Dobson pointed out, conditioning is among the primary concerns, especially when it comes to ensuring players are ready to take contact. As players spent longer and longer by themselves focusing on the fitness aspect of their individual training regime’s, the more time they would need to re-adjust to full contact.

    ‘There was a formula of two-to-one,’ Dobson said, explaining that his squad would need at least four weeks to full prepare. ‘So if you were off for two weeks, you would take one week to get ready to play again. Now that has been dramatically extended by the fact that we have now as of this week had a full traditional off-season. So, we are now going to need a full pre-season.’

    Players have also undoubtedly been impacted mentally by the lockdown. The uncertainty of this period has made it difficult for players to stay motivated, while they would also have personal concerns over their families respective safety as well.

    Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen earlier this week admitted his side had been feeling a bit low on energy, while Dobson pointed out in a press conference that the Stormers’ sport psychologist Tom Dawson-Squibb has never been busier in terms of player consultations.

    However, the news that players can finally begin some form of team training will be welcomed. Players and coaches can be reassured that SA Rugby has done its best to get rugby restarted as soon as possible.

    As chief executive Jurie Roux pointed out on Saturday, the governing body has been active in submitting return-to-play protocols to the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and are ready to begin screening players as soon as they return to training.

    Following Australia and New Zealand’s example, SA Rugby are hoping to get a domestic tournament underway when protocol allows for it this year.

    The latest reports suggest that the Springboks’ Tests – that were meant to be held in July – could be played in October this year, while the Currie Cup may be held over the festive period between November and January.

    While much of this is still speculation and there may not be clarity over what domestic rugby  may take place, the fact that players can begin to look forward to a return to training and a semblance of normality will do wonders for these athletes mentally as well as physically.

    READ: ‘The news we’ve been waiting for’

    Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images

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    Dylan Jack