Scrums return to rugby league but questions remain over Covid-19

ONLY putting vaccinated players in scrums – and therefore producing some unfamiliar sights – could become common when the set-piece returns to rugby league for the first time in 18 months this season.
Batley Bulldogs and Bradford Bulls scrumdown back in 2020. Picture: Ash Allen/SWpix.comBatley Bulldogs and Bradford Bulls scrumdown back in 2020. Picture: Ash Allen/
Batley Bulldogs and Bradford Bulls scrumdown back in 2020. Picture: Ash Allen/

The Rugby Football League yesterday confirmed scrums will be back in the 2022 campaign after the necessary 85 per cent threshold of vaccinated players across Betfred Super League and the Championship was reached.

Scrums were suspended across all levels of rugby league in the UK from July 2020 in order to minimise the risk of positive cases of Covid being transmitted, or of players being forced to isolate as close contacts and therefore missing fixtures.

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Wakefield Trinity chief executive Michael Carter is pleased to see them return but – knowing he has six unvaccinated players in his squad – realises there could be knock-on effects following the news announced at yesterday’s meeting of Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs and the RFL.

“There is still that question around if the player involved in the scrum is a close contact and happens to be unvaccinated,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“Then they still have that potential 10-day isolation period so that’s a concern. It’s one where I’ve said to our head coach that we might just have to send vaccinated players into scrums.”

In all reality, modern rugby league scrums are already fluid in terms of who packs down.

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“I was laughing as I remember one scrum from 2018 or 2019 where Ben Jones-Bishop was part of it!” added Carter, referring to the popular ex-Trinity winger.

Michael Carter, Wakefield Trinity chairman.Michael Carter, Wakefield Trinity chairman.
Michael Carter, Wakefield Trinity chairman.

“It’s not like rugby union where one to eight are in the scrum. Our’s is not like that.

“We know that. And our’s is manageable in that we don’t put unvaccinated players into that to help mitigate our exposure.

“And, they did say, this would only be in the event of someone testing positive in the 48 hours after the game and looking back to see if there was appropriate contact within the scrum.

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“It may be that two people are in the scrum and it’s still not a close contact so I think players that get pulled up in this way will still be very few and far between.”

Other relevant factors behind the decision to reintroduce scrums include the increases in knowledge regarding the impact of the Omicron variant since December (when a decision was deferred), reduced isolation periods for close contacts and the views of clubs and other key stakeholders.

In a statement, the RFL added: “The meetings also provided a final opportunity for clubs to input into the changes to the Covid fixture framework to apply in the 2022 Season: this will now go to the RFL Board for final sign-off.

“It is envisaged the Covid framework under which league positions were determined by win points percentage in 2020 and 2021 will be replaced, and that any team unable to fulfil a fixture will forfeit the match with a 48-0 scoreline – save in exceptional circumstances to be determined by the RFL Board, which would include a club being unable to play a match due to being required to shut down by either the RFL’s Multiple Case Group or Public Health England.”

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