(Reuters) - The start of the 2020-21 season of England's second division Championship has been postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown and is scheduled to begin on March 6, England rugby governing body (RFU) said on Monday.
The delay comes as a blow to Saracens' national team players such as captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Mako and Billy Vunipola, who will head to the Six Nations in February without any club games under their belt since being relegated in October.
Saracens, winners of four Premiership titles in the past six years, were sanctioned for spending above the league's seven million pound ($9.29 million) salary cap and were docked points before being relegated from the top flight in the 2019-20 season.
"The clubs have chosen not to return to play under adapted laws and the March start date allows time for clubs to gain clarity from Sport England regarding the Sport Winter Survival Package before starting pre-season training," the RFU said.
"All Championship clubs are unanimously behind the intended competition as outlined, but require some weeks of full training, to make squads 'match ready', subsequent to the long absence of competitive rugby."
The Championship has been split into two conferences of six teams each who will play home and away within their conference.
The top teams in each conference after 10 games will then contest a two-legged final to crown the winner, who will earn promotion to the top flight Premiership for the 2021-22 season.
Conference A: Saracens, Cornish Pirates, Ampthill, Jersey Reds, London Scottish, Hartpury University
Conference B: Ealing Trailfinders, Coventry, Nottingham, Bedford Blues, Doncaster Knights, Richmond
($1 = 0.7535 pounds)
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)