This weekend just gone, myself and a group of fellow Pistol Shrimps found ourselves on a Zoom call to wish a teammate a happy birthday, and talk invariably turned to the future. May 2021 should have seen the Shrimps competing in their 10ᵗʰ Aber 7s, but the COVID-19 pandemic has left us stuck on 8, with last year’s tournament cancelled and this year’s likely not going ahead either.
And yet the professional tournaments for “elite” players continue, despite people going down with COVID left, right and centre. Squads are currently being named for the Six Nations, despite the most recent 2 rounds of European rugby being canned due to France taking a stand against the pandemic. The whole build-up seems like a farce and after the boredom of the Autumn Nations Cup – with it’s empty stadiums and matches cancelled due to COVID outbreaks – I have never found myself less enthused about the start of the Six Nations.
I am a die-hard rugby fan, but right here, right now, the health of the population – in every country – is much more important. And yet as each round of Premiership rugby goes on, we hear of more players testing positive. Celebrations for scoring a try become limited, but if you can’t high five someone from your own bubble, why should you be able to scrum down against someone from outside your bubble? I understand that rugby needs to keep going as much as possible to avoid financial trouble, but the league is a farce when teams are getting more points for having to cancel due to COVID than teams who are successfully avoiding outbreaks, while the wrong people having to isolate can prove costly.
To me, rugby should be stopping its elite competitions right now and creating more localised bubbles containing a handful of local teams (Premiership teams could link with Championship teams) for smaller exhibition tournaments and effectively use this season as a long preseason ahead of next season, by which point we should be in a better place.
Taking players to the Six Nations is just a recipe for spreading the disease among a wider group, so I sincerely feel that the Six Nations should be missed this year, and I also find it hard to imagine that rugby will be ready for the Lions Tour to South Africa in the summer.
Right now, it’s hard to feel that professional rugby has any credibility, with money appearing to be much more important than health, safety or even the integrity of the game. I can’t help feel that if we look back at the end of 2021, I can’t help feel that we would agree that a break from competition ended up being the right call.
In the meantime, I will just continue to look ahead to the return of the COVID-free Super Rugby Aotearoa.