FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 file photo, South African captain Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup after South Africa defeated England to win the Rugby World Cup final at International Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. South Africa’s Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi and his wife, Rachel, have fast-tracked the launch of their foundation to help the country’s hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Rugby in South Africa is aiming to restart next month after the government gave permission for matches to go ahead again without spectators.

National body SA Rugby said approval for full-contact training sessions and games was given Thursday but it will take teams around a month to be ready to play competitive matches again.

SA Rugby hasn’t announced where games will be played in a country among the worst affected in the world by the coronavirus pandemic. South Africa has more than half a million confirmed COVID-19 cases, the fifth biggest caseload in the world. It has more than half of the cases across the entire African continent. Cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, home to the biggest teams, all have high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The relaxation of rules does not apply to any trans-national competitions and teams cannot leave or travel to South Africa.

South Africa’s top domestic teams have been out of action since the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition was suspended in mid-March. Southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand and Australia have been running their own domestic rugby competitions for the last month. Two South African teams also play in Europe’s Pro 14 league, which is planning a return to action later this month with games between teams from the same countries. The development in South Africa may allow its Pro 14 teams to follow suit.

South Africa’s national team, the world-champion Springboks, hasn’t set foot on the field since winning the Rugby World Cup last November and will likely be out of action for at least a year because of the virus. The Springboks’ next target is the delayed southern hemisphere Rugby Championship, which could now be played in November and December if restrictions on travel are lifted.

“At this stage, we hope to have our first (domestic) matches by early to mid-September and our plans on the structure of the planned competition will be announced in due course as we have various options to consider,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said. “We’re hopeful that in due course the government will be in a position to further relax the restrictions.”

(COMPILED BY ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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