Simon Collins / NZ Herald

Rugby training has started again at Auckland’s Macleans College – but only in groups of no more than 10.

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Like all New Zealand schools, the college has come up with its own interpretation of the rules for school sports at alert level 2.

“We’ve had mixed messages,” said principal Steven Hargreaves.

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“The Ministry [of Education] was out of the gate quickly and said full contact training and no need to observe gathering restrictions, and then the sporting bodies have come in and restricted it to groups of 10.”

The confusion has left schools free to take a wide range of interpretations. Some, especially primary schools, have banned all contact sports, at least for the first week or two, while others are more relaxed.

At Onehunga High School, principal Deidre Shea said there would be no training this week.

“We want them to feel comfortable with the environment first and just to reconnect, really. We are going to wait for a week or so,” she said.

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At Macleans, a First XV rugby squad of 32 has been split into four groups of eight so that they can practise skills such as jumping in a lineout and passing the ball but keeping physical contact to a minimum.

“We’ve decided that there will be no scrums or tackling at this stage,” said coach Bevan Packer.

“The key thing for the boys is that after those seven weeks of lockdown they were just chomping at the bit to get out there and run around, so our main job as coaches is to try to hold them back.”

Macleans coaches held 40-minute training sessions with their teams twice a week via Zoom right through the lockdown and the First XV started training on the first day of level 2 on May 14.

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On the other hand, at Wait?kere College, principal Mark Shanahan said teams started training this week in full squads of about 28 for rugby, 18 for soccer and 12 for netball.

“All the key sports are doing fitness training this week,” he said.

“Next week are going to start doing physical contact training but following protocols such as washing hands before and after training and wiping down equipment afterwards.

“And by week three of this return to school we’ll be into normal sports with normal physical contact.”

Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the limit of 10 on public gatherings in level 2 did not apply to schools.

“School sports grounds are part of an educational facility and are not classified as public mass gatherings and do not have the same number restrictions as outlined by the Covid-19 regulations,” she said.

“Sports on school grounds rely on contact tracing of those on site during school hours. That means inter-school sporting events can return as a contact tracing register will be there to record the teams.”

Packer said Macleans has already lined up two other schools for games before the inter-school competition starts officially but could not set dates for those pre-season games yet because they needed referees from NZ Rugby, which has not yet approved them.

Rugby and the other main sporting bodies are hoping a Government review of the level 2 rules, scheduled for Monday, may relax the 10-person limit for gatherings to perhaps 50 next week and to 100 within a few weeks.

“We are still saying no training and no games till any further notice from the Government,” said Auckland Rugby communications manager James Johnston.

However, NZ Rugby, Netball NZ and the other main sporting codes are all indicating on their websites that, if the mass gathering rules are relaxed, community sports could resume from the weekend of June 20, with pre-season games allowed in the week before that.

College Sport Auckland says it hopes to start inter-school sport in the same week from Monday, June 15.

Shanahan, who chairs College Sport, said that would allow just three games before the school term ends on July 3, but regional games could then continue right until the end of term 3 because this year’s national winter tournaments have been cancelled.

“Possibly for some sports we can still have a full season without having to shorten it for the winter tournaments,” he said.

Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush said most schools were taking “a fairly cautious approach” until everyone was confident about hygiene procedures.

“We are seeing that confidence grow in our communities,” he said.

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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