Steve McNamara will unleash his Dragons this week as virus control restrictions begin to relax in the south of France.
The French Prime Minister will announce today (Monday) the beginning of a deconfinement programme, which will allow Catalans players a little more breathing space as they prepare to regroup and restart the Super League season.
It’s a relief for McNamara, who was becoming concerned about the lack of freedom for his squad. He told League Express: “From Monday, restrictions in France will probably come in line more with the English. We’ve been locked into a daily one-hour slot within one kilometre of home; the restrictions have been very, very tight.
“Some of our players haven’t been able to complete any kind of running programme because they don’t live within a kilometre of a suitable playing field. But things should relax a little in France now; they’ll be given more breathing space and they’ll be allowed to train in pairs for the first time in weeks.”
McNamara said all his players have fully respected the reasons for confinement, but there was only so much home training they could undertake.
“The players look in good shape,” he said.
“They’re probably doing more training in isolation than they would do normally. When you’ve got 24 hours a day to fill, you get into a routine and these boys are so competitive that when we get back as a group I don’t think there will be any body-weight issues. But running, and the ability to get them on a field, will be a godsend for us from Monday.
“It’s still not an ideal situation, but it is a step in the right direction for us and we can get a pretty serious running programme into the players. There’s also the possibility that in three weeks’ time we can get back together as a group and open up the stadium again and really get the ball rolling.
“We’re all extremely keen to get back to some kind of normality but, at the same time, we have to be aware of the possible repercussions of moving too quickly. Our players are really aware of the need to stay fit and healthy and not catch or spread the virus to others.”
Although when the Dragons will be allowed to resume playing is still an unknown, McNamara said his squad was ready to adapt to all scenarios.
“We’re waiting for confirmation from the French government as to the exact terms of being allowed to play at Stade Gilbert Brutus in August,” he added.
“We’re very hopeful and it would be fantastic if that were the case. Even if it were in front of a 5,000-maximum attendance it would cater for our sponsors and season-ticket holders, which would be great for the club if we could fulfil that obligation.
“The worst-case scenario was handed down by the French Minister of Sport, which suspended everything until September and that would obviously have been difficult for us, but we would have found a way.
“But now there is hope we can play in August, which is great. The biggest factor is making sure that it is safe for both us and visiting teams, who would have to travel.”
The Dragons coach says his squad would be prepared to move to England to complete their fixtures if necessary, adding: “We will do whatever it takes to get playing again. All options are still up in the air at the moment and we’re just waiting for more information and direction from the RFL, Super League and government. It’s all massive guesswork.
“It won’t be easy, but if we have to move camp we will do. Each player has his own individual situation and personal circumstances. Some may have pregnant partners or sick parents and you have to be mindful of the human factor in this situation.
“We’re fully aware of that, but if we have to do it, then we’ll do it. We’ll find a way of getting across to England and playing for that period of time.
“I have to remind the players regularly that it is all speculation at the moment. Nothing is on the table until it is officially sanctioned, but as soon as it is we will present the situation to the players and they’ll be ready to go.
“The real problem would arise if any quarantine rules come into play. If a two-week isolation were to be imposed on either side of the border between England and France that would stop our ability to play at home and we would have to go and stay in England for the whole period until September.”
In other news, McNamara said he was interested to see developments down under regarding the possible establishment of a ‘Pacifique Treize’ team which would be made up of players from French-speaking Pacific Islands like Polynesia and New Caledonia.
The idea is being promoted by former French national coach Laurent Garnier, who would like to see the new team compete in the Queensland Cup in Australia along similar lines to the inclusion of the Hunters team from Papua New Guinea.
McNamara added: “I don’t know too much about it, but it’s an interesting concept and one that has sparked a lot of interest. I’ll be interested to see how it unfolds and we’ll probably get more details this week. But if there are a lot of French-speaking players out there, some of whom could qualify for France, then that could only be good for the game.
“Whatever we are trying to do at Catalans or Toulouse, it’s part and parcel of our job to encourage more French players to take up the sport, so something like this can only help.”