PLYMOUTH’S rugby clubs remain hopeful that they still might get to play some games this season, despite the RFU cancelling the 2020-21 league programmes.
The RFU Council made the decision on Friday after it became clear, following discussions with the government, that hopes of starting the season in January would not be possible.
In a statement, the RFU said: “We believe that, even if a return to full contact rugby becomes possible, playing a meaningful competitive league season resulting in promotion and relegation is no longer feasible.”
However, the RFU have not ruled out playing non-league rugby and they are in discussions with regional competition committees to produce plans for club or cup fixtures, if they do get the go-ahead to return to full contact rugby.
Clubs have already been able to play limited numbers, inter-club, non-contact fixtures, although these will be halted for a month, if parliament approves a new four-week lockdown in England starting on Thursday.
“The way it (the RFU statement) was worded probably did lead people to think that they would not be any rugby until next September,” said Devonport Services head coach Mike Lewis.
“But we are still optimistic that we will be playing games of rugby this season – it just won’t be league rugby.”
Lewis added: “The RFU did put out a national survey about playing a reduced rules game but I think pretty much everyone said they didn’t want to do that in the leagues.”
It is believed some clubs were worried about getting relegated without playing ‘proper rugby’ or without playing all the teams in their division.
But Lewis said: “I think we would have been happy to play whatever, and if we got relegated we got relegated and if we got promoted we got promoted. We would have been just happy to play some games of rugby.
“It is tough at the moment. We have had quite a lot of boys at training but not all at the same time because there’s no end goal – no-one knows what is going on.
“I’ve been asked a few times over the last couple of weeks what I thought was going to happen. Unfortunately, I predicted there wouldn’t be any league rugby but maybe we would play a few friendlies.
“We have to stay optimistic and we do have a good group of boys that are paying their membership and want to turn up every week. They are dead keen to carry on and keep themselves interested. But everyone is missing playing on a Saturday.”
Services are a club that have been on the up the last few years, winning promotion to South West One from Western Counties West and coming agonisingly close to going up again last season.
There is a danger they could lose momentum due to the long break due to the pandemic, but Lewis said: “Everyone else’s momentum will have gone as well. Everyone is in the same boat.”
“There’s lots of variance in motives across the squad. Some boys are as keen as ever where as others are struggling to be motivated with no security in what is to come and are enjoying family time and working as an alternative.
“We feel lucky to have a large pool of players that are committed to the club and playing and hence I’d like to think we won’t be hit as hard as some clubs may be with the recent news.
“We are contemplating a few ideas ie having a winter break, setting up some inter-club touch games or simply continuing as we are, but ultimately the whole scenario is a bit of a mess where rugby is concerned.
“Obviously should contact rugby return at any point this season we will jump at the opportunity and play as much as we can.”
Tamar Saracens were looking for promotion from Devon One this season after the Covid-19 pandemic robbed them of a play-off game in 2019-20 after finishing as runners-up behind Withycombe.
“We had made some really good signings like Tommy Pullinger and Callum Perkin from Devonport Services and so it is frustrating as we wanted to get this season going and try to get promoted,” said Sarries director of rugby Pete Lethbridge.
“Things were looking quite rosy for us, but then Covid comes along, but we just have to get on with it.
“As a club we will survive and we just have to take it on the chin and look to next season, but it will hit a lot of clubs in the bank balance.”
He added: “We have cut training down to just one night a week. We have a committee meeting this week and it is about trying to keep the lads together and motivated.
“We are just hoping we will get some game-time.”