THE possible return of scrums has been put on hold by the RFL as the impact of the omicron Covid variant is assessed.
With the governing body having set a target of 85 percent vaccinated players by December 31, it had been hoped to bring them back from the start of January.
But the RFL board have now delayed the move “to allow more time for vaccination rates to increase and to assess the impact of the omicron variant”.
The current vaccination figure is 80.66 percent in Super League and 81.71 percent in the Championship.
The decision on the return of scrums will now be taken by the end of January – ahead of the start of league competitions.
The game has been played without them since the coronavirus-enforced suspension of the 2020 season.
As an area of increased contact, scrums were replaced by a handover of possession to reduce the risks posed by Covid.
The governing body explained in a statement: “On December 2, the RFL’s laws committee had recommended and the RFL board had supported that scrums should return in 2022 if 85 percent of players across Super League and Championship had been double vaccinated by December 31.
“As things stand, that 85 percent threshold has not been met in either the Betfred Super League or the Betfred Championship.
“In addition, the emergence and spread of the omicron variant since the last laws committee meeting, and the renewed emphasis on booster jabs, has also changed the landscape significantly.
“All clubs have been advised of the above decision and of the following priorities:
“The remaining minority of players who have yet to receive any vaccination should be advised that their decisions are having a material impact on all others, and on the nature of the 2022 competitions, given the majority support of players and coaches for the return of scrums if possible – which has been endorsed in the 2021 RFL Supporters’ Survey.
“All players should be encouraged to have a booster jab as soon as possible, both for their own health, that of other players in the competition and for the effective running of the competitions.
“The RFL board will review the position throughout January, both regarding vaccination rates and the public health position regarding the omicron variant.”
Karen Moorhouse, the RFL’s chief regulatory officer, said: “The RFL board share the view of the laws committee and the wider sport, that the return of scrums is desirable, especially with a view to the World Cups in England at the end of 2022.
“However, we have to balance this with the potential risk of transmission in scrums and of scrums leading to individuals having to isolate as close contacts and the consequential impact on the ability of clubs to field teams.
“Currently everyone in a scrum would be deemed a close contact and therefore if there was a positive case within 48 hours of a match, any unvaccinated players who had been in a scrum with the positive individual would be required to isolate for ten days.
“In addition, the emergence of the omicron variant since the last laws committee meeting has clearly changed the landscape in terms of transmissibility and the efficacy of double vaccinations – increasing the risk of positive cases and leading to a new focus on the importance of booster jabs.
“We have not mandated vaccination, but we have worked with clubs to encourage their players to do their part, both for the sport and in the national battle against Covid-19.
“Considerable progress has been made over the last couple of months, with some clubs setting an outstanding lead in terms of vaccination rates, and now boosters.
“We recognise this delay is far from ideal for coaches and players as they prepare for the 2022 season with ongoing uncertainty – but in a rapidly changing landscape this is the appropriate and responsible course of action as things stand.”