The Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Toyota Cheetahs, Phakisa Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas all received the green light to return to contact training under strict conditions following the completion of specific health checks and protocols, and as expected the various coaches were elated.
“It is really exciting,” said Cell C Sharks coach, Sean Everitt.
“The players have been hoping for this for quite a while now, and it is certainly a step in the right direction. Everyone is excited and sees a light in the tunnel that there is a start in the near future.”
DHL Stormers coach John Dobson echoed these sentiments: “This is a big step forward for everyone in South African rugby and our players and management could not be more excited to move into the next phase of our preparations with contact training, especially after having spent the last few weeks getting used to the new protocols through non-contact sessions.”
Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White admitted that it was a relief with an eye on preparing his charges to return to play and said they had to be smart in phasing in the contact.
“Obviously we are very happy to be back in some form of official rugby training – it has been challenging to work in little groups,” said White.
“The important thing now is to work out with the conditioning coaches how to gradually bring in all the conditioning and contact aspects that we need to do. So, it will be body suits, contact shields and simulating certain things in the game to build up the confidence and contact, and slowly by the time we kick off, hopefully the boys will be ready.”
In Bloemfontein, Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie also emphasised the need to increase the level of contact steadily over the next few weeks.
“We are pleased to be able to participate in contact training once again. It has been a while, so we are really looking forward to it. That said, we have to be sensible in the way we do things, so we will phase in the contact progressively,” said Fourie.
Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen adopted for a different approach to the other teams, opting to continue training in small groups for now.
“It is a great feeling to get back to contact training,” said Van Rooyen.
“The guys have really worked hard on the non-contact aspects of the game in the last few weeks, and it is natural progression to now move to contact training.
“We will still manage it in our groups of five, as we feel we can control things a lot better that way, and then we will progress from there.”
In Kimberley, Tafel Lager Griquas coach Scott Mathie stressed the importance of getting into the physical aspects of training: “Rugby is a collision sport and if you go for about a year without that body-on-body collision, the guys miss it, so there is an air of excitement around it and being able to get back into what is essentially the fundamental part of rugby, physicality.”
Steval Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse was thrilled with taking the next step in the return to play process and said: “It is great after the long phase of non-contact training and fitness. This is a sure sign that playing matches is the next step. The players cannot wait to prove themselves against one another and we are also thrilled about the possibility of participating in a competition where we may be able to play against some Springbok players.”