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Rugby will likely return this year, says World Rugby medical chief

Eanna Falvey said domestic, provincial or club games would likely return first, progressing to Tests, with Australia and New Zealand best-placed to get the ball rolling.

FILE: Australia's David Pocock (L) holds off South Africa's Aphiwe Dyantyi during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on 19 September 2018. Picture: AFP

DUBLIN - Competitive rugby will return this year despite the coronavirus pandemic, the chief medical officer of World Rugby has predicted.

Eanna Falvey said domestic, provincial or club games would likely return first, progressing to Tests, with Australia and New Zealand best-placed to get the ball rolling.

Global rugby is suspended due to the pandemic but Falvey said he could see light at the end of the tunnel.

"I would be very surprised if there isn't some competitive rugby before the end of the year," he told the Irish Times.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there is quite a bit of competitive rugby and I would say that we are probably going to get cleverer in how we can monitor players."

The Irishman said Australia and New Zealand, much less hard-hit than Europe by COVID-19, were probably "reasonably close" to getting back into training.

Falvey set out a scenario for the return of international rugby, though he admitted a second or third wave of the virus would change the outlook.

"For example, you would have inter-provincial games in Ireland," he said. "The next step would be to have short-hop transfers between countries that are in similar stages in their disease process.

"You could have matches between Irish and Welsh, Irish and Scottish, Irish and English teams, depending on what that would look like.

"That may well then show people that it is less risky than we thought and, in the absence of an outbreak, it may facilitate further travel and proper international rugby."

He said crowds could attend matches even before a vaccine was approved.

"Once we have games played, we will have crowds," he said.

"The size of the crowd won't be determined by World Rugby or by the individual union. It will be determined by the government, and the limitation on public gatherings will decide the size of crowds at games."