FULL contact rugby matches could be played as early as June, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) publishing a new ‘Return to Community Rugby Roadmap’ that outlines its plan for a phased return to that point.

A six-stage process has been created to guide rugby coaches and players through the return process from Stage A (where the game is currently), to Ready4Rugby, O2 Touch and limited contact training sessions at the end of March, to full contact matches anticipated in June.

As previously confirmed, the 2020/21 league structure has already been cancelled, but rugby clubs will be able to host friendly fixtures in the adult game during summer months if they wish.

As long as Covid-19 infection rates are kept under control, all adult and age grade competitions are expected to start in September, as normal, under full laws.

From Monday, March 29, community rugby clubs may hold contact training sessions, excluding scrums and mauls, and host Ready4Rugby, O2 Touch and Tag rugby matches between clubs - applying to both adult and age grade players.

Contact should be built incrementally and RFU guidance states that training sessions should not exceed 20 minutes of contact at this stage.

After four weeks of contact training to enable players to build fitness levels and condition themselves physically, matches with adapted laws (no scrums or mauls) will be permitted against other clubs from April 26 (Stage D2 on the roadmap).

It will be clubs’ and players’ individual choice as to whether they play adapted contact, or continue with Ready4Rugby, O2 Touch or Tag rugby, at this point.

When Step 3 on the government roadmap is reached (from May 17), it is planned that community rugby will move to full contact training, including scrums and mauls.

Two weeks after this, full contact matches can begin.

It is hoped that community rugby can move to the final stage when the government roadmap reaches Step 4 (June 21), at which time all remaining restrictions are expected to be lifted.

The current age grade match season will end on May 31, but the age grade out-of-season regulations will be suspended for 2021 and replaced with a range of permitted non-contact and contact activities, to support young players' safety and contact preparation.

The process for 17-year-olds playing adult rugby is suspended from now until Saturday, January 1, 2022, as these are some of the players at greatest safety and retention risk due to the rugby they have missed.

In season 2021/22, the shift to the next set of age group rules is delayed until January 1, 2022 (for example, Under-10 players in 2021/22 will play Under-9 rules before Christmas and Under-10 rules after Christmas).

Girls in the multi-age Under-13, Under-15 and Under-18 bandings will move into that age band and play to those rules from September.

RFU rugby development director Steve Grainger said: “It’s wonderful to see light at the end of the tunnel and we are as delighted as clubs and players across the country that they will soon be able to resume training and, subject to each step on government’s roadmap being achieved, progress towards an exciting season of rugby for 2021/22 from September.

“Over the next couple of weeks, we will share detailed stage-by-stage guidance to make the return to rugby as simple and as safe as possible as we progress through the stages.

“As during lockdown, we will continue to run webinars for coaches, players, match officials and volunteers to prepare for the return.

“Guidance will include advice for coaches on how to gradually and safely reintroduce contact, as well as ways to re-engage players and develop their skills over the coming months.

“As more guidance is published by government, we will provide facilities guidance to ensure clubs are in the best possible position when they’re able to re-open their clubhouses.”