Harlequins v Sale to relaunch Premiership rugby on August 14


London (AFP)

The English Premiership will restart on August 14 when Harlequins host Sale and conclude with the play-off final on October 24, Premiership Rugby announced on Friday.

The fixture at the Twickenham Stoop will end a Premiership hiatus of 159 days due to the coronavirus shutdown.

A day later four more matches will take place before a bumper weekend of rugby action ends when Northampton host Wasps on August 16.

Clubs will have to prepare players for midweek fixtures, with a minimum turnaround of four days, but Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said all 12 Premiership teams had been supportive of the drive to complete the final nine rounds of the 2019/20 season.

"The reaction has been really positive," he said. "It was very clear early on we wanted to keep the integrity of competition and if possible we could avoid cancelling rounds and awarding points.

"There has been a lot of conversations about how we deal with those demands, but every single club is absolutely on board and totally supportive of this schedule and excited we have found a way."

A major concern given the packed schedule will be player burn-out and Phil Winstanley, rugby director at Premiership Rugby, admitted the league was trying to be proactive with how to manage the load.

He confirmed talks were continuing with the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Players' Association.

"Whether it is limiting game-time, limiting turnaround time, it is a proactive discussion, but we recognise we need to come up with a solution that involves the RPA and RFU," he said.

Exeter are five points clear of Sale at the top of the table, with Bristol and Northampton occupying the other two play-off places.

Relegation is already decided, with Saracens set to play in the Championship next season as punishment for salary cap breaches.

Premiership clubs were given the green light to move from stage one to stage two of the training guidance on Monday.

This allows clubs to hold contact training sessions in small groups, but on Wednesday the governing body announced 10 people had tested positive for coronavirus following the first round of testing.

Of the 804 tests, six players and four non-playing staff were found to have COVID-19.

Childs said: "It is in line with expectations in terms of the first round of testing. We have had to put in one of most rigorous testing machines in elite sport and that is why it has taken some time."