Update on County Competitions

Dear All,

Hope you are all keeping safe and well during these unprecedented times. As co-chairs of Competitions in Oxfordshire we have been in constant dialogue with members of the executive board and especially with our competitions fellow ORFU Exec members (Doug Bosley {men’s competitions} , Jenny Bosley {ORFU Safeguarding Officer } and Chris White {Girls & Ladies County Rugby development}). As a CB we have been continuing our planning with regular meetings (socially distanced of course!) during the whole pandemic.

From the start, it has been apparent that we have been(and will continue to do so) dealing with a fluid , changing and unprecedented situation on a week to week basis. For many months, our regional support officers within the RFU were furloughed and then came the uncertainty of the RFU restructure and redundancies. As a CB, we have been placed in the Southwest region stretching down to Cornwall. The opportunities for any competition/fixtures have been restricted and with a month long second lockdown in November all rugby activity was suspended.

At a board meeting last week we were joined by Becca O’Neill ( CB Relationship Manager) and Steve Grainger (RFU Development Director). Steve’s view was that a return to Stage F would be unlikely before the beginning of next season and reiterated the point that there is no obligation to return to matches from 18 December. As stated in a recent RFU Bulletin, “We are now at Stage E which means tag and contact training can now continue under adaptations with matches allowed from Friday 18 December. There is no obligation to return to matches straight away and we would encourage a staged return to contact for players.” Concerns were also expressed regarding the retention of players in the community game especially forwards with no scrums or mauls and the hope that the minimum numbers in the lineout would go some way to alleviate this in what could potentially be a faster game more suited to backs.

The Southwest region has been planning for clusters of matches in the men’s adult game for some time and due to some clubs opting-out from the fixtures initially sent out, there has been a delay in finalising the fixtures which have now been released. The first round of games will now take place on the weekend of 23rd/24th January. This does not mean teams cannot play fixtures they have organised themselves before the weekend of 23rd/24th January.
Additionally, CBs and/or other non-RFU locally organised clusters can start before this date. As stated in the recent communication regarding the SW men’s matches the situation may again need to be fluid:

“Given the complexities with current Tier systems, and the earliest update to Tiers in the new year being the 13th Jan, we have scheduled the start date of the clusters to allow for any potential changes, i.e. fixture changes and movement of teams between clusters, to be made with enough notice for clubs.”

We also plan, in the coming months to put thought into the opportunities for County Cup Competition in the ladies game in future seasons and of course we will send an update when we have further news regarding this.

Men’s outstanding Shield and Cup Finals 2019-2020

The feeling is that we would like to conclude these outstanding finals when we return to Stage F and dates are available. If we are in this position and government/DOH/RFU guidance allows at the beginning of the 2021-2022 season then we will look to hold these matches possibly in September 2021 before the next season’s competitions commence. In relation to next season league games we also hope to have the league fixtures for 21/22 season by the end of May 2021, so we should know where are gaps are to sort dates out.

As a CB we have given much thought to ORFU Age Grade Rugby and in the past few days have been in consultation with Buckinghamshire Comps Organiser (oversees the OBB league for U16 and U18s) as well meeting with Katie Oldrieve (Competition Development Officer Southwest region)

Paul and I also run the U14s/U15s County Cup and will share our thoughts below on this as well as plans for the County mini festivals. All the latter discussions with the above have helped formulate our thoughts going forwards.

OBB U16/U18
The OBB as previously mentioned is run by Buckinghamshire and their intention is to go ahead with the league in divisions 1 ,2 and 3 from January 1 and we are aware that all but one club have responded indicating they are happy to do so.

As a CB, our main safeguarding concerns are the travelling distances including car sharing and as has been observed on social media lack of social distancing especially among spectators. The league format is more flexible to cancellations but as a CB we are limited with our allocation of dates for club competitions and have been advised in the past that these dates are not flexible.

U14/U15s County Cup (Male)
Paul and I have now been overseeing this competition for the last 4 years adapting and changing as needed from year to year.

We still have Cup/Plate and Shield finals outstanding from this year (2019-2020) so we will keep in mind any opportunities that may arise to complete these matches again depending on advice at the time and how the COVID-19 Situation evolves over the coming weeks/months. Here is how we currently see the pros and cons going forwards regarding the 2020-2021 Cup Competition:

1.     We are now limited with remaining available dates in the club comps Age Grade Calendar(I have been assured that there is no movement on this)

2.     Possible weather issues in January/February and running into March have meant cancellations in previous years (frozen/waterlogged pitches etc)

3.     The vaccine roll out will take time still to protect the vulnerable and in reality there may be more restrictions in January/February (possible third spike being talked about) following the Christmas easing of restrictions countrywide.

4.     There is a possibility that school COVID-19 cases will lead to pupils being at home isolated for 10 day periods as has been proposed if there is a positive case in a bubble in these environments (the impact will be great on player availability for comps and we find in normal times that smaller squads can struggle to field the minimum numbers leading to forfeit of the matches). Current government data indicates another upturn in COVID-19 cases with the highest rates now among the 11-18 year olds. As of this week our local figures are as follows per 100,000 and increasing rapidly in all areas with a wide variation across these Tier 2 areas:

Cherwell 138

Oxford   178

South Oxfordshire 116

West Oxfordshire 81

Buckinghamshire 211

As a result of these uncertainties and to give a clear and more pragmatic view we will be consulting with Katie Oldrieve at the end of January but in the meantime, if the situation allows, these age groups may organise friendly games adhering to government guidelines but preferably in local clusters to reduce travelling from one end of the county to the other for these age groups. The feeling is that this would be less disruptive than if part of a cup competition if cancellations are needed and should the situation improve over the coming months, and time allows, we are considering local clusters of county cup matches (in small cluster festivals and altered format to determine placings for finals April/May time). This will be under constant review as we will need to be in a position to organise this format at fairly short notice but we feel this will be manageable.

Girls U13/U15s County Cup
We are planning to start running the above girl’s competitions from September 2021 to run alongside the Boys County Cup Competitions. We are currently in the process of establishing the numbers of teams and players across the county and hope the introduction of this competition will encourage more participation. Paul and I will run the competition with input and guidance from Chris White.

Mini County Festivals
Currently, should the situation allow and it is safe to do so from a player and spectator welfare point of view, we are still putting in contingency planning to at least possibly running minis’ intra-county festivals in April but as with all areas this may be subject to change and a re-boot in the season 2020-2021 if needed.

We are currently anticipating and hoping for a near “normal” season 2021-2022 if the vaccine roll out is successful. It’s been incredibly tough on everyone and whilst we encourage and want to get our youngsters back and engaged in the sport we all love , we feel there has to be thought and a realistic view on what is achievable. We have been informed that Gloucestershire are not doing any competitions just inter club friendlies should a club wish to participate. We need to be wary of the potential for increased injuries due to loss of training and fitness over the past months with the safety of all involved being paramount.

Please do let us know if you have any questions regarding the above and we wish you all a Happy Festive season with the hope for a better 2021.

Kind regards

Jane and Paul Weaver
ORFU Competitions


Sent by Karen East, County Secretary on behalf of Jane and Paul Weaver

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