The IRFU are hopeful of resuming the currently suspended Guinness PRO14 season with a round of interprovincial derby fixtures behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium in late August. A match hasn’t been played in the five-nation league since Connacht’s win over Southern Kings on March 1 in Port Elizabeth, PRO14 indefinitely suspending the tournament in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

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However, IRFU officials are looking to return to play on August 22 and 23, meaning a 25-week break in total between games for their Irish teams. Speaking to media in Friday, IRFU CEO Philip Browne said: “On the topic of matches I can tell you we have been working assiduously with a wide range of experts in developing our return to train and play protocols.

“These involved the IRFU’s medical team, external medical advisers, strength and conditioning experts, match staging experts, PRO14 and the Aviva Stadium team. Our documents are now with the Government.

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Ex-Ireland skipper Rory Best guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

“Based on these protocols, we have target dates of August 22 and 23 for a return to play with the staging of Guinness PRO14 derby fixtures between the provinces at the Aviva Stadium behind closed doors as part of the completion of the Guinness PRO14 2019/20 season.

“In these times these matches are not just rugby fixtures, they are a beacon of hope for the entire country. A step, albeit a small one, in Ireland’s opening up to an environment for which the entire country yearns, deserves and has sacrificed so much to win back.”

Brown was speaking shortly after PRO14 confirmed it had sold a 28 per cent stake in its tournament for £120million to CVC Capital Partners, the Luxembourg-based investment company who already have a 27 per cent stake in the English Premiership. 

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“From an Ireland specific perspective, the IRFU is phasing its sale of equity to CVC with payments being received over the next three seasons,” he said. “The total value to Irish rugby is in the order of £30m (net of costs), with an initial sum expected on Friday of approximate £5m.

“While hugely welcome, and an enormous vote of confidence in rugby, the investment must be viewed in the context of the mammoth financial issues the IRFU is facing where revenue losses in the order of €15m/€20m will be encountered should the 2019 Six Nations not be completed and the Guinness autumn series cancelled. All this against a background where the IRFU’s cash reserves are likely to be exhausted within a matter of months.”

Browne admitted it was too early to say what way the Test calendar would pan out later in the year. “What I can say is that we are proactively engaging with World Rugby and our fellow unions to work on a programme which will deliver international matches here sometime in October or November.

“Obviously as part of this approach, we are keeping a close eye on the various top-level sports around the world which are now coming back to play. We will take whatever learnings we can from their experiences in order to ensure we meet with the most stringent health directives and guidance around the safety of players, management, all the support crew and supporters if involved.”

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