RUGBY union's planned return at grassroots level has been called off and a new date scheduled.

The latest national lockdown has put the resumption of grassroots rugby union on hold in the North West.

The alarming and continuing national rise in Covid-19 infections, deaths and the R rate, which prompted the Government to impose lockdown number three on England at the beginning of the month,has now put paid to hopes for fixtures to resume in the middle of January.

All adult and age-grade rugby training stopped on January 4 with the imposition of the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

Officials of the Halbro North West Leagues, which hosts clubs in Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cumbria, have announced new dates for the possible resumption of games, March 6 and 13, depending entirely on the easing of the highest tier of Covid restrictions before then.

More than 140 sides are affected, from 79 clubs, and the news is a huge disappointment for players and officials throughout the region, although perfectly understandable according to Leagues chairman Fred Swarbrick.

“We are all committed to protecting the health of our club members, players and officials, and fully support all measures that seek to stop this appalling virus in its tracks," he said.

“That means no mixing on the pitch until such time as we receive the green light from the Government through the Rugby Football Union.”

As it stands, the league's January reorganisation of sides and future fixture plans will remain a ‘blueprint’ for play to resume in the spring.

The Leagues’ fixtures secretary John Powell said: “We are recommending that clubs use the planned fixtures as a model should league rugby not resume this season.

"Clubs will be free to decide whether or not to play, and there will be no penalties at all for not playing games. It has to be safety and common sense first.”

Clubs are being encouraged to keep an eye on the leagues’ website, and on the leagues’ Facebook page for up-to-date information.