Bideford player-coach James Starkey has welcomed a draft plan from the RFU that could see competitive rugby played this season.

There has been no contact rugby so far this season and earlier this month the RFU scrapped all league competitions from the National One down to county divisions such as Devon One.

Twickenham officials live in hope the Covid-19 restrictions will be eased or lifted entirely in the New Year in time for some rugby to be played.

Standalone cluster leagues, basically geographically split versions of existing divisions, were published by RFU last week as a possible way of getting some rugby played.

Every club in the South West Division has been allocated a league, although they can opt out if there is no enthusiasm for taking part.

James Starkey. Picture: Bob CollinsJames Starkey. Picture: Bob Collins

Bideford have been placed in the same cluster league as Tiverton, Burnham, Chard, Honiton, Teignmouth and Wiveliscombe. The same group of clubs were matched together in a now-abandoned RFU scheme for conference rugby floated back in September.

Although there are some lengthy round trips on the proposed fixture list to Teignmouth, Chard and in particular Burnham-on-Sea, Starkey feels the effort involved would be worthwhile.

“Getting people playing in a safe way is all that matters at the moment,” said Starkey.

“In general it just comes down to ensuring there’s rugby played against opposition of the right standard for everyone involved.”

Starkey, who re-joined Bideford from Barnstaple during the last close season in a joint coaching role with Jordan Petherbridge, is pragmatic about what can and cannot be achieved during a rump season.

“If our rugby has to be different – for example around scrums and mauls – then we have to work with that,” said Starkey.

“The longer we go with no rugby at all the more problems we are storing up for the future.

“I worry that the immediate post-colts generation of players in their early 20s could be lost to the game if there is no rugby played for too long.

“There are plenty of other things out there they could take up, such as golf, and there is no guarantee the younger players will come back when rugby returns.”

Starkey said an unwanted knock-on effect of losing the post-colts cohort is the impact on 2nd XV rugby.

“Unless there is a provision for 2nd XV rugby I worry whether it will still exist as we know it now,” said Starkey.

“For the good of the game at every level we need people running around with a ball in their hands again as soon as possible.”