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Strict protocols enable Maidenhead RFC to resume training in small groups

In a limited capacity Maidenhead RFC’s senior players returned to training last week, with the club following strict protocols and advice from the RFU and World Rugby ‘to the nth degree’.

Chairman Steve Bough said it was ‘great for the soul as well as the body’ to see small groups of five players back at Braywick Park again for the first time in months, being shouted at by head coach David Mobbs-Smith and World Cup winner Will Greenwood.

The club has been following guidance from World Rugby over the last month or so and has put a series of protocols in place to enable players to resume basic training drills with a coach, however, Bough was also keen to point out that this isn’t the club simply ‘returning to normal’.

He knows the country is very much still in the middle of its fight against COVID-19 and this is simply a small step on the path back to full contact rugby and league matches.

Last week the club held a couple of test sessions at Braywick Park, observed by their 'COVID manager' and physiotherapist Sharlene Bertie and Bough was looking forward to welcoming more of the senior squad back to the club this week. The set of protocols they’ve adopted has also been approved by the Berkshire Executive who believe they could be successfully rolled out to other clubs in the county.

Before returning to training players must sign and return a ‘rules of engagement document’, book their attendance and complete a COVID-19 symptoms check on the morning of the session declaring they are symptom free. Then, before the 30-minute session starts, they also have their temperature taken and wash their hands thoroughly. At present the sessions are done without a ball but that can be reviewed and changed. They’ll enter and exit Braywick Park in different places and the clubhouse is currently off limits to reduce the risk of infection.

Bough added there’s only one rule to follow – ‘follow the rules’.

“We looked at it in terms of ‘let’s go for the nth degree’,” he said. “For example, we don’t really have to do most of the paperwork or the temperature checks, but at some point down the line when we’re allowed to go back to more normal, regular numbers training, these sort of checks are more likely to come in. We thought let’s be safe first and foremost.

“You’ll see that the social distancing is extreme when we’re on the pitch. We just felt we should test out those rules, do them to the nth degree so that we’re safe and the players are safe.

“We’ve covered ourselves and done everything we can so that when we go back to full training we’ll have all of the protocols in place. We’re going above and beyond, but it’s looking to the future and it’s also about the safety of everyone involved.”

The short sessions have been devised by head coach David Mobbs-Smith and Will Greenwood, and while Bough said the players wouldn’t ‘be beasted’ in these early days, he reckons they’ll all get a good workout and be motivated to work that little bit harder by having ‘Mobbsy and Greens shouting at them’.

In part this is about building the players back up again ahead of the new season but it’s also about the players reconnecting with each other, the coaching team and the club after such a long time in lockdown.

“The smile on the guys faces and the feedback from those who’ve come down has been great,” he said.

“They’ve absolutely loved it. It’s exciting to have the boys come down and do something, even if it’s been in small groups. Mobbsy and Will Greenwood have done fantastic session plans but we’re bringing them back in easy, we’re not going to beast them. There are no balls at the moment, we could use them but have decided not to.

“Running up and down a grid line with a ball is more fun but it adds the complexity of having to wash the ball.

“When Mobbsy wants to bring balls back into sessions we’ll introduce them, but we want the boys to understand these protocols. Once they do we can look at accelerating them a bit and perhaps having two groups of six at one time. There’s one rule and that’s follow the rules. Psychologically it’s about coming down to the club and doing something with the team rather than on their own in the park.

"It’s a five minute job before training and a bit of paperwork, but the boys have been fantastic and it just shows their keenness to get back in and do something. It’s giving the boys the chance to do some physical activity and you can never push yourself quite as much if you don’t have Greens and Mobbsy shouting at you. The inspiration to work a little harder is there and they come off feeling like their lungs have had a good workout.

“Hearing those two shout at you, it’s great for the soul as well as the body.

“The boys haven’t seen each other for three months and they also get to have a natter in training and while they’re waiting to have their temperature taken.”

Bough hopes that, in time, certain junior teams will be able to return to training in a similar manner, but for now, it’s restricted to senior players only. The club has 600 junior players of various ages and sexes and the complexities of bringing them back in for training – and keeping them socially distant – is too challenging at present.

However, the club do want to take those steps in the coming weeks and months and have thanked parents and players for their understanding and patience.

“We’ve been in close contact with all the youth teams and we know they’re finding this frustrating as well,” he said. “But we’ve been very up front with them and have said ‘look, give us time. We’re still testing our protocols and, at the right time, if we’re happy with everything, we’ll see what we can do with the youth. We’d consider bringing back some of the colts and the u16s/u15s would love it. They’re having to be patient but we’ve got buy in throughout the club.

“We’re still very much in the middle of this. We haven’t come out the other side. It’s not just about what we want to do, it’s about being seen to do things properly. If all of a sudden 20/30 people were on the pitch at Braywick, people wouldn’t understand the degree of safety we’ve gone through.

“There’s a lot of thought and planning that’s gone into this. We’ve been planning it for about a month.”

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