Rugby | ADDING THE EXTRAS

Asian rugby tested as COVID-19 wipes out schedules

Rugby across Asia is feeling the full brunt of the coronavirus outbreak with games and tournaments getting called off at a rate of knots.

Such is the speed of things that decisions are seemingly being made on an hourly basis, but as it stands this is the current state of play.

In Japan, the Top League has been postponed for the next two weeks, meaning 16 games in Rounds 7 and 8 will be rescheduled.

In an ironic twist, the predetermined bye weekends that have been criticized in the past by players, coaches and fans alike look to have helped the Japan Football Rugby Union make its decision as the games will now be played March 21-22 and May 2-3.

However, league commissioner Osamu Ota said if the virus forces further games to be called off, then cancellations rather than postponements may be the order of the day.

At this stage, the league is set to end May 9 with the All-Japan Championship — a separate tournament from the league but played by the top four sides in the TL — slated for May 23 and 30.

Ota said that as the season-ending tournament is run in conjunction with NHK, it may be difficult to reschedule.

A further problem is that Japan is set to play Wales at Ecopa Stadium on June 27, and Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph will not want his top players missing the start of the national team training camp ahead of a tough summer that also sees them play England in a two-test series.

The initial reaction to the postponements was positive, with players such as NTT Communications Shining Arcs captain Shokei Kin taking to social media to write “This is inevitable. Above all, safety first. Wash your hands, gargle, and make sure your nutrition is healthy and boost your immunity.”

Kubota Spears assistant coach Alando Soaki tweeted that it could also have a beneficial effect from a rugby point of view.

“Positive side to the postpone, allow teams to regroup, injuries to heal & mentally recover. With bye weeks now filled with R7 & R8 meaning that 9 games on the trot going into play-offs. Depth of teams to be tested.”

Cancellations, however, could have big repercussions, with the likely outcome that matches declared null and void will go down as a draw with sides given two points each.

This could result in teams at the top of the standings dropping points in games they would be expected to win with a bonus point and could have some saying whether an asterisk should go against the name of the eventual champion.

Of course, one way of avoiding that would be to have midweek games to ensure a full slate is completed.

The games may not attract the big crowds that the league has experienced this season, but it would be a lot fairer and ensure there are no arguments come the end of the season.

While midweek games would work for a domestic league, it would be impossible for a tournament such as Super Rugby, which embraces four continents.

On Thursday, the Sunwolves announced that their March 8 game against the Brumbies in Osaka and March 14 match with the Crusaders in Tokyo will take place in Australia.

“(We have) been in communication with all relevant stakeholders regarding the match and advanced discussions have been held to adequately address this recent announcement by the Japanese government,” said SANZAAR, the body that governs rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, referring to the decision of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to instruct organizers of big sports and cultural events scheduled for the next two weeks to consider canceling or postponing them.

“SANZAAR is now working to determine if this match can be relocated. SANZAAR will issue further details on the position of this match and any potential further disruptions in the near future.”

Elsewhere, the Japan women’s team will have to wait until May to play Hong Kong and Kazakhstan for a place at the 2021 women’s Rugby World Cup after the qualifiers in Hong Kong slated for March were called off.

Two of the continent’s biggest rugby events — the Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens — have been rescheduled for October as a result of the virus outbreak, while the Hong Kong Tens was canceled a few months ago as sides were finding it tough to get sponsors due to the ongoing political protests.

Global Rapid Rugby has also been hit with the China Lions forced to move all their home games away from Shanghai, though games later in the season for the South China Tigers in Hong Kong are, at present, still on the schedule.

One tournament that is still going ahead this weekend is the Bangkok Tens.

The event is organized annually to raise funds for the Nak Suu Rugby Academy, a charity organization established by Eddie Evans, a former Canada international who spent a number of years playing in Japan for IBM.

The charity helps underprivileged children in the slums of Bangkok, who are prone to substance abuse, prostitution and living in poverty. Funds raised go toward providing a supportive environment through team sport and activities as well as providing guidance and care.

To those taking part in Bangkok, good luck, and to everyone, stay healthy.

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