The English Premiership resumes on Friday when Sale Sharks play Harlequins, bringing to an end a 159-day hiatus forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Rugby is the last of the major sports to restart in England and will have the nine rounds of games and play-offs — the top four qualify — crammed into a tight schedule with the Premiership final slated for October 24.
Much has changed, and not only due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sportsmen have been taking the knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the death of unarmed African-American George Floyd after a Minneapolis policeman kneeled on his neck.
AFP Sport looks at both issues ahead of the resumption:
COVID-19 protocol breaches could carry severe penaltyPlayers will bear a heavy responsibility both on and off the pitch.
Should any players breach the strict virus measures and a match subsequently has to be
cancelled due to their actions they will incur the wrath of the authorities.
Their opponents will be awarded a 20-0 victory and five points as if it was a bonus point win.
The frenetic nature of the rescheduled season which includes midweek matches will not allow for games to be postponed to a later date.
Those games that are cancelled by the government or authorities due to local lockdowns will be called a draw and each side will be awarded two points each.
The decision would be ratified by a Premiership Rugby panel.
“If a club is unavailable through COVID then the opposition get a 20-point win,” said Steve Diamond, Sharks’ director of rugby.
“We are in Greater Manchester. If there was a lockdown here and Exeter Chiefs were coming up the following week and they couldn’t play, then the points are shared.”
Diamond — whose side lie
second ahead of the final nine rounds — has provided some entertainment for the players to prevent them getting bored.
He has had a pool table and table tennis set installed on the two coaches used to ferry the players to and from away matches.
There have been 20 positive cases among players since Premiership clubs began testing on July 6.
Their nerves may be jangling after the news that five Hull FC players who played against Salford Red Devils last Sunday tested positive for coronavirus — this despite the decision to do away with scrums for the campaign.
Scrums are still part and parcel of the Premiership season.
As a reminder of the personal toll the virus took there will be a minute’s silence before each match honouring the efforts of the doctors and nurses of the National Health Service.
Hearts, knees, Vs — Premiership unites against racismTaking the knee has been met with mixed results across sports due to concerns over some of the political views expressed by the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Premier League footballers and coaching staff made the gesture but in Formula One it has not been universal, even if the drivers who remained
standing expressed their solidarity in combatting racism.
Former England and British and Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye believes the Premiership will be more like Formula One than the Premier League.
The 37-year-old has been involved in a players’ working group, containing a representative from each of the 12 Premiership clubs.
“I don’t want people to jump to conclusions and assumptions that by people not taking the knee, that means they’re racist,” he told the BBC.
“Within the Premiership, there’s a lot of different communities, cultures and different countries represented within the 12 teams.
“Everyone has a different personal relationship with racism.”
His assessment is reflected
in the different approaches of the clubs.
His former side Harlequins along with Bath and Leicester Tigers will take the knee.
Bristol Bears 23-man matchday squad will form the shape of a heart: “Love for our teammates and love for our community”.
Worcester Warriors and Gloucester will signal their support in combatting racism by forming into a V-shape before kick-off.