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Professional rugby to return in South Africa

Stormers captain Siya Kolisi. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The South African government has given permission for professional rugby to resume in the country after the Covid-19 shutdown.

National governing body SA Rugby will launch a domestic club competition in the first two weeks of September.

The competition is expected to involve South Africa’s eight franchise teams – the four that usually compete in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, the two in the mostly European Pro14, and the two that compete in the domestic Currie Cup. The teams have not played since March due to the pandemic. Matches will be played behind closed doors.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said, “We are very grateful for the opportunity to move to the next phase of our return-to-play plans.

“At this stage, we hope to have our first matches by early to mid-September and our plans on the structure of the planned competition will be announced in due course, as we have various options to consider.”

The South African government gave the green light for rugby on Thursday via minister for sports, arts and culture, Nathi Mthethwa. Its directions allow contact training, and matches in mostly empty stadiums with a limited number of staff operating within a “bio safe environment”.

International competition is not currently permitted, which would stop the national team competing in a planned tour of Europe as well as this year’s Rugby Championship Southern Hemisphere tournament, scheduled for November and December.

However, Roux said he was “hopeful” there would be a further easing of restrictions by then.

“We know the World Rugby window for the Castle Lager Rugby Championship is only in November and December, so we’re hopeful that in due course the government will be in a position to further relax the restrictions.

“For now, it’s the most important to ensure we get the action underway as we have many stakeholders, such as our broadcast partner, competition and team sponsors and our supporters, who are keen to see some rugby again.”

This year’s Rugby Championship is being planned for a “bio-secure bubble” in New Zealand.