Ending what will have been a year-long hiatus, the RFU have confirmed that second-tier rugby is due to restart on 6 March, with the 12-team division being split into ‘Conference A’ and ‘Conference B’ using rankings from the abandoned 2019/20 season.
However, despite expressing strong opposition to closed-door competition throughout the pandemic, Reds chairman Mark Morgan does not anticipate fan attendances until the latter stages of the ten-game fixture schedule.
‘Being drawn into the same group as Saracens is really exciting,’ said Morgan.
‘The way the league is drawn up at the moment we’re looking at it ending towards the end of May. Hopefully things will be a lot better by then and hopefully we’ll get Saracens at home for the last match of the season. We might be able to fill the ground by that point.
‘We’re working on the basis that fans won’t be there in March but if they are – fantastic, it’ll be a bonus.’
Morgan, who is planning for a ‘worst-case’ scenario when it comes to stadium attendances, said the club have struck a deal with local suppliers to ensure that all five home games will be streamed live online.
Without gate receipts and bar tabs, clubs will instead be relying on central funding through the UK government’s Winter Survival Package, which has yet to be finalised. RFU negotiations are also ongoing to fund the Covid-19 testing commitments that all clubs must adhere to under the country’s elite sport framework.
Morgan added: ‘We’ve been back in training for several months and I think everybody, from the players to the coaches to the fans, is desperate to get rugby going again. It’s great to have a target date at last.’
Jersey – forced to settle for seventh place on a points-per-game basis last term – will also meet Cornish Pirates (third), Ampthill (fifth), London Scottish (ninth) and Hartpury (11th) home and away. The top two from each conference will meet in a two-leg promotion play-off.