Guinness PRO14 officials have confirmed Saturday, August 22, as the restart date for their suspended 2019/20 season. No games have been played in the tournament since Connacht’s March 1 win at Southern Kings. However, plans have now been agreed to get the campaign up and running again in the five-country tournament, starting with two rounds of derby matches before staging semi-finals and a final in September.    

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It’s claimed that the exact who plays who in the all-Ireland and all-Wales matches has still to be decided, but the overall planned schedule will cut the regular season from 21 rounds of matches to 15. 

That will leave title holders Leinster likely taking on Munster with Edinburgh facing Ulster in the other semi-final unless Glasgow or Scarlets can somehow elbow their way into the top-two situation in their conferences against the odds. They are currently a respective nine and eight points off second place. 

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These six teams will definitely represent the PRO14 in the 2020/21 Champions Cup after it was also decided that qualification would be based on how the table looked after 13 rounds of matches, officials deciding that the two postponed matches in that particular round – Zebre v Ospreys and Benetton v Ulster – would be declared 0-0 draws.

However, more PRO14 teams could yet qualify as Champions Cup officials are mulling over a running a one-year, 24-team tournament that would allow for eight qualifiers, paving the way for Dragons and Connacht to potentially take part.

PRO14 tournament director David Jordan said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season. We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.

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“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense. Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”

A statement announcing that the August 22 restart date had been confirmed at a PRO14 board meeting on Tuesday read: “The target date was agreed based upon the information currently available from each jurisdiction in which the Guinness PRO14 is played. 

“Since announcing an indefinite suspension of match action in March, the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby has worked alongside key medical personnel at our unions and clubs as well as key stakeholders such as World Rugby to map out a return to action.

“With rigorous protocols outlined for training, game-day logistics and match play, PRO14 Rugby is confident that proposals submitted by our unions to governments across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa will allow our teams get back on the pitch. Discussions around these proposals will be on-going between each union and their respective governments.”

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Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, has suggested this hoped-for restart might be difficult in South Africa, however. “We hope to see the Cheetahs and Southern Kings play in the end of this season’s Guinness PRO14, but there are many factors to take into consideration before we know how it will work.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is still rife in our country and the health and safety of South Africans remain the most important priority, which is why we continue to work with the government and all the various stakeholders.

“We have to ensure we handle the return-to-train and eventually return-to-play in the best possible way. We’ll only be able to play in local derbies, but nothing can happen before we can travel internally.”

After the suspended season is concluded with a September 12 final, October 3 has been chosen as the start date for the 2020/21 season. 

PRO14 RESTART DATES

Round 14: Saturday, August 22

Round 15: Saturday, August 29

Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5

Final: Saturday, September 12

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