RETURN TO COMPETITIVE PLAYING FOR 2020/21 SEASON – What might it look like?

RFU Latest Report July 2020

There are a range of 2020/21 competition models that can be applied at different season start dates as and when it is deemed safe to return to play i.e. when we reach Phase F on the RFU Return to Rugby roadmap. The models allow for any potential interruption in the season as a result of Covid-19, while providing clubs, schools, colleges, universities and players with a framework for meaningful competitive rugby with greater flexibility to enable games to be played.

The models were developed by two working groups, one for the adult game and the other for age grade rugby, and the outcomes were approved by the RFU Governance Committee last week.  Each group has considered player welfare, flexibility in response to Covid-19, adaptable models that prioritise local matches early in the season to reduce travel, support club revenue, and maintain player participation. Headlines for each area of the game are laid out below with links to further information and FAQs where required.


The competition models are based on three potential start windows depending on when it becomes safe to return to play.

The models vary according to league size and offer flexibility to manage any potential Covid-19 interruptions, with the season able to be extended to the end of May if it helps support delivery of a meaningful competition. To further support clubs with flexibility, league rugby will be prioritised over Cup and County Championships.

To best manage the uncertainties around a start date, leagues will be split into conferences from the start of the season i.e. a 14 team league will be split into two groups of 7 teams. In most cases the conferences will be organised geographically to keep travel down to a minimum in the early part of the season, which could also present the opportunity for more revenue generating derby/local fixtures and support player availability. Further details on exact start date windows and how the models will work for different league sizes will be available early next week.


Infographics detailing the return to rugby for the adult game have been created to help explain the models:

  • The men’s competition structure for levels three and four can be found here.
  • Details on the competition strucure for men at levels five and lower as well as the women’s game, can be found here.

A full list of FAQs around the return to the adult game can be found here. 


The start of the Age Grade rugby season will be dictated by reaching stage F in the Return to Rugby Roadmap. The aim is to maximise participation and retain as many current age grade players of all ages and levels as possible. As with the adult game, in the event of a delayed start to the season, the season is able to be extended to the end of May as a one off to support delivery of meaningful activity.

In all the scenarios, player welfare and safety is a priority and activity must continue to be in line with Regulation 15.  Players should complete a staged progression aligned with Return to Rugby Roadmap Stage E to be fully contact-ready before playing contact matches.

The Age Grade Playing Calendar 2020-21 and associated regulation remains as scheduled for the season including Player Pathway (DPP, CB and Academy) activity.


  • An infographic detailing the competition structure for Age Grade Rugby can be found here. 
  • A list of full recommendations for the restart of Age Grade can be found here.
  • A list of FAQs around the return to age grade rugby can be found here.


Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director, commenting on the return to competitive play said: “The competition models we’re outlining today demonstrate our commitment to having competitive rugby played in clubs and education settings as soon as it is safely possible.  In addition to the competition framework, we are working on plans with Sport England and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about how we accelerate some form of a return to community rugby.
We’ll share our work on this with you as soon as it is available.”

Covid-19 has brought about lots of challenges for us all and the RFU seeks to provide support to clubs and the education sector where it is able. In addition to the current support already available to clubs, in 2020/21 a support fund will be made available to clubs experiencing the greatest financial difficulties, details of which it is hoped can be issued in the next few weeks.  Funding previously provided for travel expenses within RFU competitions will form part of this fund, but there will not be a specific ring-fenced travel funding payment for the 2020/21 season.