Sept. 18 may have just been another “ordinary day” for many Nova Scotians, but for those in the sports world, it was a game changer.
The provincial government announced that gathering limits would increase to 50 without having to physically distance for sports, performing arts and other organized physical activities.
That announcement immediately sparked a concerted effort by the Nova Scotia rugby community to forge ahead with a return-to-play plan that was safe and public health approved.
“Right from the get-go, when everything got shut down, Rugby Nova Scotia had a ‘never say die’ attitude, so they kind of kicked it off and even just getting onto the practice field was a lot. I didn’t even think we were going to get to play a game of 15s, to be honest, but right now, we did it, and super stoked,” said Mark Williams, the president of Riverlake RFC.
The planning culminated with a game between Riverlake and Tars RFC at Range Park in Bedford, N.S., on Sunday in the first 15s match to be played on Nova Scotian soil this year.
Williams told Global News that once the province announced its relaxation of gathering limits in Sept., he wasted no time getting his club involved in completing the necessary protocols that would allow players to get back on the field.
Through the leadership of the Rugby Nova Scotia COVID-19 Committee team, clubs like Riverlake had clear guidelines to follow that were also endorsed by Rugby Canada.
Each club that signed on had to complete a safety plan that included methods for contact tracing and COVID-19 screening.
Jack Hanratty, the provincial coach for Rugby Nova Scotia, praised the efforts of Williams and the Riverlake RFC club in setting an early example for how clubs could still enjoy a modified season.
“It’s been a lot of hard work by the community, by our clubs and I want to just congratulate the efforts of all the clubs in Nova Scotia, but it really was led, the first club that did all their protocols, all their return to play, was Riverlake RFC and it was fitting that today, Riverlake got to kick (us) off again,” Hanratty said.
The special game of 15s was organized between Riverlake and Tars RFC, but a full regular season isn’t possible for the remainder of the year.
“It’s been a long time coming, we were hopeful. The reason it’s come is because a lot of people around here have sacrificed and stuck to the rules and we’re able to gather in groups of up to 50 and because of that we can play rugby. So, it’s pretty awesome,” said John Gillis, a Tars RFC player who has been with the club for nearly two decades.
Williams says strict protocols were in place for both spectators and players to participate in the 2020 debut match.
“Everybody has to sign an electronic attestation and keep attendance so we know who’s here. And if there’s any need for contact tracing, we can give that to public health without any delay,” Williams said.
For a tight-knit community that continues to grow in talent and numbers, Hanratty was thrilled to see the first step taken towards a sense of “normalcy” back in the sport.
“Once the whistle blew, everybody felt like they were back to normal and the spirit of rugby in Nova Scotia was certainly alive and well.”
A senior rugby 10s tournament is next up on the rugby agenda, hosted by Truro Saints RFC and running over four weekends.
The first date of the 10s tournament is Oct. 17.