THE uncertainty over when next season will start is making it difficult for clubs to plot a route forward.

Depending on government guidelines, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) is eyeing a return of either September, November or January for the community game, chief executive Bill Sweeney revealed on Tuesday.

Many of Oxfordshire’s clubs have already started distanced, small-group training as they begin preparations for the new campaign.

Last season’s Southern Counties North champions Witney held their fourth session back last night, but will now pause as they await RFU guidance.

Head coach Adam Copperwheat said: “It’s all well and good saying we’ll start pre-season on July 7, but if the season doesn’t start until November it will push everything back.

“There’s been a lot of planning for different scenarios, but we can’t put anything concrete in place yet.”

Premiership Rugby is set to resume on August 15 and Copperwheat hopes the divisions below will follow suit.

He said: “They must have got that date from somewhere – how is them playing a game of rugby any different from us?

“They can test on a far greater scale, but in terms of preventative measures they can’t do much that we aren’t able to.”

The community game in England is still only at stage B of the RFU’s roadmap, with competitive action only resuming at stage F.

That seems unlikely to change soon, with groups of more than six still not allowed under existing lockdown restrictions.

But Sweeney told BBC 5Live’s Rugby Union Weekly Podcast that he was optimistic about the 2020/21 season starting before Christmas.

He said: “I’ve got my fingers crossed they can get started in September, but I would certainly hope the community game can get up and running by November.

“We’re working with government on social distancing rules and face-to-face contact, doing a lot of studies on the level of interaction with community players and how soon we can get back to playing.”

Grove, who were crowned winners of Southern Counties South, will begin pre-season on July 7, but head coach Craig Burrows admits it is hard to look beyond that.

He said: “The RFU are in a difficult position because they have to follow the government guidelines, so we need clear guidance on what we can and can’t do.

“As with a lot of businesses, the income strands have dried up and it’s difficult to plan ahead.”

He added: “The last thing I want to do is have a four-month pre-season.

“What clubs don’t want is the government to say one thing and the RFU is a step behind.”