Johannesburg (AFP)

South African Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Thursday announced that rugby could resume behind closed doors during the coronavirus pandemic, provided certain health protocols are followed.

No date has been announced for the resumption of the sport which, alongside football and cricket, is one of the most popular in the "rainbow nation".

"At this point, we hope to have our first matches by early or mid-September," said Jurie Roux, South African rugby general manager.

"Our plans for the structure of the planned competition will be announced in due course as we have different options to consider."

The Bulls, Cheetahs, Griquas, Kings, Lions, Pumas, Sharks and Stormers franchises began contactless training last month after rugby was shut down in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Mr Roux recently said the South African side, which won the Rugby World Cup last November for the third time, would not play at home this year due to the pandemic.

However, national coach Jacques Nienaber said it would be possible to participate in November and December in the Rugby Championship, which brings together South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, provided that the players have sufficient training.

Rassie Erasmus' successor said the minimum requirement for national team candidates was "six competitive matches" and that a restart in mid-September would achieve that goal.

Instead of home and away testing between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, a six-day tournament is likely to be held in New Zealand, where the virus is under control .

New Zealand have been playing rugby matches with spectators since mid-June and Australia resumed playing in early August, leaving South Africans and Argentines on the sidelines at a disadvantage.

© 2020 AFP